BY LOUIS MENDEZ
Charlton Athletic clinching their first visit to Wembley Stadium in 21 years was enough to reduce some to tears – and assistant manager Johnnie Jackson was no exception.
Friday night was a rollercoaster evening at The Valley as Doncaster recovered from a first-leg deficit to take a 4-3 lead on aggregate in extra-time. Darren Pratley levelled up almost immediately for the home side – who went on to win 4-3 on penalties.
Next stop is Wembley and a repeat of the 1998 play-off final, although this time with a place in the Championship – not Premier League – at stake.
Jackson, 36, has been with the South Londoners for just shy of a decade as a player and now as a coach, moving full-time into that role a year ago.
He admitted that he had been through the wringer against Doncaster.
“I’m exhausted, emotional – I can’t describe it,” he told Charlton Live.
“I was crying like a baby on the pitch. I hope nobody has any pictures or videos of that, because it was embarrassing. I was overcome. I think it was the highs and lows of the game. Nothing is ever simple, is it?
“I’ve been watching all these games recently and thinking I hope we don’t have to go through that. When we got the early goal, I’m thinking it’s a nice, easy night, but I’ve got to give huge credit to Doncaster. They’re a very good team. They pushed us to the brink. Penalties can go either way. In that respect, it’s a draw.
“Grant McCann deserves a lot of credit because he’s built a great side there. Over the two legs we were very evenly-matched.
“We were already dissecting it [straight after the match]. We’ve been defending great and playing brilliantly here, but what you can’t do in training is replicate that atmosphere, the pressure of the situation. You can’t replicate it until it’s there and it’s happening.
“You can’t help but be affected by it. We were affected by it on the sidelines. Of course, the lads on the pitch are going to be affected by it. “We didn’t play great. We didn’t pass it like we normally do, we didn’t defend as well as we normally do.
“But who cares? For tonight, we’ll let them off for that one. We’ll have a look at it, dissect it. We didn’t win the football game. You won’t always have success doing that. With the situation, it’s understandable.”
Jackson never got the opportunity to ply his trade at the national stadium as a player, but is delighted to get the chance to go there in his new role.
“It’s the next best thing,” he said. “Last season when we got knocked out [in the play-off semi-finals against Shrewsbury] I was still a player but really, I was coaching mainly and already assistant to Lee. It was probably the lowest moment of my career. I really felt we would get to Wembley.
“At one stage I thought it was slipping away again. I’d have loved to play there as a player but it didn’t happen. At the moment I’m just so happy and proud of everyone and I can’t wait to get the opportunity to go to Wembley as part of a brilliant squad of lads. Hopefully we can finish it off.”
The game was played out in front of a sold-out stadium, with the home fans vocal throughout – support that Jackson described as “unbelievable.”
“I knew it would be like that,” he said. “As soon as you’re seeing the numbers we were doing on tickets.
“Some of these lads have never seen it like that. I have. Well, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it like that, it was incredible. When that first goal went in it was mayhem.
“The highs and lows of the game, them sticking with us, and a pitch invasion at the end. I’ve never seen that, not on that scale anyway. Well, not for the right reasons!”