It was strange leading the team out for the League Trophy final at Wembley. Lee had managed them through all of the previous rounds, so I felt a bit of an imposter.
Winning that trophy was so important to the rest of our season, though. Not only because of the lift it gave the team, but also because they got to experience playing in a big game at Wembley.
Five weeks later, we were back at Wembley for the playoff final against Millwall.
I’d seen the occasion get to a few of the players in the Johnstone’s Paint final. This time, there was none of that. We’d been there before. Knew what it took to win. All I had to say to the players before kick-off was: “Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.”
In the build-up to the game we’d been on such a strong run of form, we talked about having the players on a leash. Holding them back and holding them back. We didn’t want them to go too early.
So, on the day, it was like: bang. They were straight out of the traps.
When the third goal went in, I almost dived into the Barnsley fans sat to our right. Like I said, that day is one I’ll never forget.
“If a club is run perfectly, it doesn’t matter quite so much who’s in charge, really, as long as the club is making good decisions”
That summer was a big learning curve for me.
We were really strict in terms of who we were recruiting: under 24 and hungry, from the leagues below.
I learnt that if you’re being that narrow in what you’re looking for, you have to work fast. There might only be three players in that bracket who are suitable. We have to get them. You can’t be losing that player over £100k or £500 a week.
Otherwise you find yourself paying even more for a player who wasn’t even on the list – or, worse still, one who fell outside of the initial parameters. I struggled to get my head around that. Still do.
That was my takeaway for the club that summer. We couldn’t let it happen again.
It comes down to the running of a club, and what it takes to be successful. Yes, you need a good head coach or manager. But if a club is run perfectly, it doesn’t matter quite so much who’s in charge, really, as long as the club is making good decisions.
A few months in to our first season back in the Championship, I understood more about the consequences of that not happening.