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Slade prepares Orient for biggest stage

Orient boss Russell Slade is ready for big season finale (pic: Simon O'Connor) Orient boss Russell Slade is ready for big season finale (pic: Simon O'Connor)

Robin Cottle
Friday, May 23, 2014
1:00 PM

Boss believes early Wembley visit helped squad

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Russell Slade took his Orient players to Wembley on Tuesday to help them get over the nerves of playing on the biggest stage as they look to complete the journey they set off on in August.

The O’s manager also tried to use his own experience of losing in two play-off finals to inform his preparations - losing 1-0 to Cheltenham with Grimsby in 2006 and 2-0 to Blackpool with Yeovil the following year.

Slade said it was about “visualisation” because you can feel “very small” in the stadium.

“You’re trying to keep it as normal as possible, but it’s hard to achieve bearing in mind what the prize is,” he added.

“It’s been a little bit different because we’ve trained on Wednesday as we have that extra day with the game on Sunday.

“It’s about visualisation, knowing where you’re going to sit and where you’re going to walk out. I don’t want the players to have their cameras and phones out on Sunday and I’m hoping that will be out of their system.

“There are other little issues you have to address during the week whether it’s tickets or how you’re going to prepare and now we’ve had our little trip to Wembley.”

Slade took his Grimsby team down to Cardiff for their League Two play-off final two days before the game - and that’s something he says he will not repeat again.

Another thing that will not change is his touchline attire. Slade will lead the O’s out in a suit before changing into his tracksuit before the game.

“I need to get my battle gear on,” he joked.

Orient should be practically at full strength for the League One play-off final against Rotherham.

A couple of players have struggled with niggling injuries, but should be fit for the Wembley showpiece.

Slade added: “Picking my team for Sunday with everyone fit isn’t rocket science. It’s not the biggest squad in the world so if we have one or two injuries it does have an impact.”

Reflecting on the O’s season, Slade insists there is no hangover from having led the table for so long and having to settle for a place in the play-offs.

The performances against Peterborough in the semi-finals showed they could pass the “acid test”.

In nine of the last 12 seasons 86 points would have been enough to clinch automatic promotion and it would have been good enough to win the title in 2012/13.

Slade said: “We’re proud of what we’ve achieved this season. The pace at the top of League One has been incredible and it’s been a long journey for us after the fantastic start we had.

“I think we deserve our crack at the Championship, but that won’t count for anything on Sunday because Rotherham will feel the same.

“We came through the Peterborough acid test and now it’s just one more push to get over the line. It would be a remarkable achievement.

“I’m a positive person and you can’t change what’s happened. We’ve dealt with any little demons we might have at the back of our minds.”

Slade had to cut a training session short on Tuesday when the intensity got a little bit too much, but says it’s “natural” for the players to be pumped up before the biggest game of their careers.

“You want to bottle it up and make sure you’ve got something left for Sunday,” he said.

It’s common consensus that the play-offs are the best way to get promoted if you can do the business.

That’s a theory Slade buys into and is urging his players to do the “basics” to cap a memorable season.

All the League One play-off games have been close encounters this season and he doesn’t want a mistake or lapse in concentration to jeopardise Orient’s great work this season.

He said: “If you can do it this is the best way to go up, in front of 50,000 people at Wembley. It will be a very proud day.

“There is no written script for the play-offs but the players have to do the basics well on the day. You don’t want to lose it with a lack of discipline or a silly mistake. Tackling, tracking and marking, that kind of thing. It’s such a fine line.”

Slade expects a tough game against a “good” Rotherham side.

The teams were locked on 86 points in the League One table, only being separated by goal difference.

“Rotherham are a good side,” he said. “They’re a little bit like us in some ways. They’ve got pace, they’re probably a little bit more direct with forwards like (Alex) Revell and (Kieran) Agard.

“It’s going to be an exciting game. The games in the play-offs have been very tight and you need your best players performing at their top level.

“My last message will be to do what they’ve done all season, to give absolutely everything and fight for every inch on the pitch.”

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