What a night last Tuesday was.
A night when Leyton Orient deservedly won through to Wembley where they will have the chance to rejoin the second tier in English football, last graced in 1982. The best team won over two legs, with two incisive pieces of finishing nullifying a visually pleasing Peterborough side, but one which had no real cutting edge in the final third.
It was the best atmosphere I can remember in over 15 years of going to Brisbane Road, including the draw against Arsenal. I wish the ground could rock like that more often; but that is very much a story for another day. They were moments to savour but the job is so far from completion, as we face an incredibly skilful and resilient Rotherham United side at Wembley this Sunday.
This column is known for its negativity - yet if we had had to face Preston North End, not the Millers, I would have felt genuinely confident and would have written this accordingly. I felt we could exploit the lack of pace both in defence and up front. Rotherham did just that, blitzing the tie 4-2 on aggregate and continuing Preston's horrendous play-off hoodoo.
Yet in the spirit of my last couple of columns, which have been decidedly more upbeat, not to mention our magnificent effort to get to Wembley, here are the reasons why we can beat Rotherham on Sunday.
Firstly, unlike the Preston game which would have been a tight, cagey affair with men constantly behind the ball, playing against Rotherham will make for a far more open contest. If we play like we can and take the game to Rotherham on a pitch of that size, it will suit Orient more. The flip side, of course, is we will leave ourselves exposed in defence. Steve Evans has instilled a mentality that if Rotherham concede four, they will score five. Not many teams go to Molineux, score four and still lose the game!
The game will be won and lost in midfield. I believe Rotherham's have an edge as frequently, Lloyd James and Romain Vincelot are overrun. However, I firmly believe their defence is more suspect with fairly slow centre-backs, while goalkeeper Adam Collin is prone to a mistake and must be targeted. Runaway 26-goal top scorer Kieran Agard plays on the right wing and Dean Cox, who has a intermittent record of tracking back to help Elliot Omozusi, must not neglect his defensive duties. Like us, Rotherham have players who can a match single-handedly.
Whoever plays out of James and John Lundstram (I reckon it will be James), must keep the ball unlike last week, when James unnecessarily gave the ball away three times. We were just lucky Peterborough could not capitalise - Rotherham definitely will.
Both sides have standout players on the flanks. Whichever two of Dean Cox, Moses Odubajo, Ben Pringle and Agard will be in pole position - in terms of goal threat and service to the strikers. Alex Revell will relish facing his former side, hoping for a similar strike in our league game at the New York Stadium. However, the huge pitch will suit David Mooney, who loves the drop back and out wide to bring others into the game.
Another standout player, right back James Tavernier loves to bomb forward in a similar way to Mark Little for Peterborough. If he and left-back Joe Skarz over-commit, Cox and Moses Odubajo could run riot. However poor Preston were, they still fashioned numerous chances. The likes of Lee Frecklington, Agard and Pringle will be more concerned about conceding space to Orient's forward players than against Preston, such is our pace and direct approach.
At the New York, Rotherham doubled up on Moses, yet on this huge pitch, his fitness will hopefully be a deciding factor, as will the threat of Shaun Batt when he gets unleashed in the second half. Indeed, I'd argue that our substitutes bench carries more of a threat than Rotherham's, with Batt and the in-form Chris Dagnall.
We MUST be wary of Rotherham's never-say-die attitude and potent last-minute goal threat. We struggle to see games out well enough and have conceded quite a few late goals this season, as was evident last week and there is simply no margin for a repeat.
The fact of the matter is we are not facing a sleeping giant - a team such as Norwich, Leeds, Sheffield United or even Preston, all of whom have been in this division in the not too distant past. Both Evans and Russell Slade wants to be the underdog, yet in truth both sides are roughly the same size and it is anyone's game. A huge opportunity awaits us, and we should outnumber their support.
The ingredients are there, and while Rotherham must be favourites given recent form, by no means is it a foregone conclusion. One match separates 'little old Leyton Orient' from an unprecedented season in the Championship. We just have to believe.
Up the O's.