CURLE ON DIVISION ONE PLAY-OFFS
HARD WORK MAY BEAT TALENT ON THE DAY
Evening Post, 08 May 2003
Having played at the heart of defence for all three of Forest's play-off rivals, Stags manager Keith Curle runs the rule over the Blades, discusses the Reds' chances and talks about the qualities the successful outfit will need to make it all the way to the Premiership...
I left Sheffield United two years ago and enjoyed my time working for Neil Warnock.
On match days he really came into his own because he is a great motivator.
Half an hour before the match and then at half-time was when he came to the fore and he treats all his players in exactly the same way, whether they are young kids or older pros.
If you have upset him, you don't want to hang around.
When he came to the club, he surrounded himself with people who are good at their job and he has put a number of changes in place over the years.
In the last season he has begun to reap the rewards and they will leave the club in good stead.
They have had a magnificent season and they have had enough big occasions to know what sort of nerves they expect to get and will be able to identify how to counteract them, and that will be a big advantage.
The work ethic has been at Bramall Lane for a long time and now it is bringing results.
Young players have come into the team and have now become an important part of it, people like Michael Tonge, Phil Jagielka and Nick Montgomery.
Now they can see that all the physical stuff, like the weight programmes they were put on, has been a real benefit to them.
They are strong down the spine of the team and have made third spot their own, so the foundations are in place for them to be a success.
Wolves come into the play-offs in a different frame of mind to last year because then they were neck and neck with West Brom for automatic promotion.
Now they are going into them brimming with confidence, judging from the way they are playing.
Dave Jones has gone there and put together the final pieces of the jigsaw and everything has been coming together in the last few weeks.
They have also got plenty of experience in the team and there are lots of positives about their chances.
What I particularly like is that they have got a lot of arrogance up front and they always look like they can score goals.
They have a confident swagger that everyone playing at that sort of level should have and, if that is arrogance, then I don't think it is a bad thing.
They have got some young players I was impressed with when I was there. Matt Murray always had all the attributes to be a top keeper and he is proving it.
There will be plenty of expectation as there always was, whether it was Mark McGhee, Colin Lee or Graham Taylor in charge.
But Wolves cannot think they have got a divine right because of their facilities and the perceived size of the club.
They have to earn it.
I signed a five-year contract at Reading but only stayed for five months.
It was a relegation not too dissimilar to the one we have had at Mansfield, where people said they thought we shouldn't have gone down.
I don't really know much about them now but they do tend to win a lot of games by the odd goal. But the change from the old days at Elm Park is phenomenal.
When people see that Reading have come up from the Second Division, I think they still seem to be talking about the old Reading.
But they have now got the facilities to compete on equal terms with teams like Wolves, Sheffield United and Forest and they cannot be underestimated.
I saw Forest play at Sheffield United a few weeks ago and a couple of other times and they always look to play football the right way.
They have got that foundation at the club where everyone plays the same way and the players, consequently, are always comfortable on the ball.
Whether they win or lose, their style of play remains the same and - whether they are winning or losing - the players know what is expected of them when they have got the ball.
I am not surprised they have done well and I think bringing Des Walker back to the club was a great move.
He is very important to them because he is such a steadying influence on the players around him.
It's a really tough call and I don't think I will be able to say who is going to win until two minutes before the end of the final. Even then I wouldn't be confident.
It really is tight to call and I wouldn't be surprised if both semis and the final went to extra-time.
It will all be about the belief the players have and the team with the most will get through.
In the end, hard work will beat talent if talent doesn't work hard.
As told to Ian Wilkerson
Latest | May 2003