Christian Norgaard does not think the scars of last year’s play-off final defeat to Fulham will ever fade but the Brentford midfielder-turned-defender believes that they can channel last summer’s experience into getting over the line this year.
The Bees face Bournemouth in a two-legged semi-final next week having finished third in the table once again but Norgaard says the team is more emotionally stable this time around because they did not have the crushing disappointment of failing to win automatic promotion a week earlier.
Last season, dropped points at Stoke and at home to Barnsley meant Thomas Frank’s team fell out of the top two at the very end. And while they finished this regular season well, winning four in a row, they were far enough behind Norwich and Watford to have more time prepare for a format in which this club has endured a significant share of heartbreak.
In nine previous play-off attempts they have failed to win promotion and last year’s defeat in extra-time to Fulham may have been the hardest of all to take.
“We’ve had a longer period to practise some of the tactical bits but more importantly mentally we’ve had a breather before it gets intense,” Norgaard said. “From a mental point of view we’re in a good place.
“It’s been less stressful the past couple of weeks compared to last year. We’ve had more time to settle a bit and to wrap our heads around what’s coming. Our preparation has been a bit better this time, a bit more calm around the training ground. Around games as well we’ve been able to work on different systems looking towards the play-offs.”
The 27-year-old, a holding midfielder who has recently found himself in the middle of a back three, spent several months earlier in the campaign out with injury, allowing the feeling of emotional hurt from Wembley to fester. But that can also serve as extra motivation for the rest of this month.
“The biggest redemption would be to get promoted but I will never forget the loss against Fulham,” he added. “It will always be inside me because often the biggest defeats you face are the ones you remember the most.
“Now we have the chance to change things and we also saw that life goes on. Even though we lost a big game we’ve put on a fantastic season.”
Brentford won both home and away games against Bournemouth in the regular season. For Norgaard that will have little bearing on this tie.
Instead he thinks momentum will be far more important. The South Coast club have lost their past three games to nil, in sharp contrast to Brentford’s four wins in a row and a dozen without defeat.
“There might be some recent footage we can use but play-off games work differently,” he said. “They are a very good team. We know already we have to be on our A game.
“They have a lot of Premier League experience. Of course we’re confident from our recent run, which is more important to have that feeling than thinking about our fixtures against Bournemouth.”