EXCLUSIVE BY YANN TEAR
Darren Pratley hopes his experience of two successful promotion campaigns will play a part in getting Charlton over the line when it comes to the play-offs.
The Addicks play their final regular season fixture on Saturday at the Valley against Rochdale, then it will be a two- legged semi-final against Portsmouth or Sunderland.
And Charlton’s 34-year-old midfielder knows what to expect when the stakes are high, having played at Wembley in a play-off final for Swansea against Reading in 2011 – having scored one of the goals in the semi-final win against Nottingham Forest.
“I’ve experienced two promotions – one with Bolton from League One, and one with Swansea when we went up from the Championship to the Premier League via the play-offs,” he told the South London Press.
“Will that experience help? I hope so. I’ve played in high pressure games, and know what it takes. It’s all about playing the game and not the occasion and the team that plays its normal game usually wins, so we’ll be trying to keep to our normal passing game.
“I don’t think we have a preference for who we meet. Whoever we play, we know it’s going to be tough. We beat Pompey twice this season but that doesn’t mean we would beat them over two legs. But I’m confident we will do well.”
Charlton’s 2-0 win at Gillingham on Saturday made it eight wins in 10 matches and they can make it six home wins a row with a win against Rochdale tomorrow.
Pratley says there will be no question of the Addicks coasting through what is notionally a meaningless match. Momentum, he says, is everything.
“It’s always good going into play-offs on the back of a win,” he said. “It makes a big difference. “We made a few changes last week at Gillingham so everyone in the squad can feel ready to go, when needed. But the manager will want to win this weekend.
“Our form has been very good and we want to continue that. We haven’t dropped too many points and the Valley’s been a bit of a fortress for us and we want that to continue.”
One thing boss Lee Bowyer can depend upon is a serious shift from his combative midfielder. The yellow cards have lessened since they came in a rush earlier in the campaign, but his desire to win the ball and do the hard yards has not diminished one bit.
“I have picked up fewer bookings than I did earlier in the season, but I haven’t changed my game,” Pratley said. “Sometimes it’s a matter of luck. I cover a lot of ground and like to make tackles to try and win the ball back. Sometimes you take one for the team.
“I’ve always picked up bookings, but it’s not something I worry about. It’s not as if I’m picking up bookings because I’m slow or lazy. Sometimes it’s just down to the refs. I was booked on Saturday for standing still when a player ran into me.”
If Charlton do make it to the Championship, there is little doubt Pratley will have played a big role and that he will be up for the next challenge. “I’m in the middle of a two-year deal and can’t see why I shouldn’t do well in the Championship again if we get there,” he said.
“In many ways, League One is even more relentless than the Championship because there are no international breaks, so it holds no terrors. “I’ve not thought about how much longer I can play. You never know because of injuries. But I’m still one of the fittest in the squad and come out on top in our fitness tests.
“As long as I’m enjoying it, I want to continue. You are a long time retired, after all.”