By Tony Leighton
Leyton Orient manager Russell Slade has the highest regard for his opposite number at Rotherham United, Steve Evans - but when their teams clash at Wembley in Sunday's Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off Final, the O's boss will be out to destroy the promotion dreams of his old rival.
Slade gave a glowing assessment of Evans and his team as he looked ahead to what should be a thrilling finale to the League 1 season, Orient and their opponents having finished level on points at the end of a campaign in which honours between the two clubs were even as each beat the other at home.
The Orient manager said: "I think he's really underrated. I've played him in the Conference, in League 2 and in League 1, and his teams are always difficult to play against. They always play with an energy and an intensity, and I think that he's done a great job there [at Rotherham].
"They're a little bit like us in a sense because they have pace, they have energy. They're probably a bit more direct than us because they've got the strikers in Revell, the pace in Agard, and Pringle's very good from set plays. So they've got a little bit of everything and I think it's going to be an intriguing game."
If Evans has done a great job at Rotherham the same must be said about Slade at Orient, where his 43.23 per cent win rate over his four years in charge makes him the most successful manager in the club's history. This season in particular has been outstanding, the O's amassing 81 points - their highest ever total.
Once seen as a fire fighter of a manager, clubs including Orient taking him on when they were in danger of relegation, Slade has turned his reputation around to such an extent that he has this week been linked with the managerial vacancy at Premier League club West Bromwich Albion.
But he will have no thoughts about that kind of speculation on Sunday, when on a personal note he will be looking to make it third time lucky in Play-Off Finals - he has previously lost with Grimsby Town and Yeovil Town - while urging his players to take the O's up to Championship level for the first time in 32 years.
He has put his finals failures to good use in the build-up To Wembley. "I've used that experience to try a slightly different route in terms of our preparation," he said. "But the greatest thing I learned was that your players have got to do the basic fundamentals well on the day - you need to be right on it."
Slade's players will be right on it when they step out at Wembley, though the manager himself will step back into the dressing room before re-emerging to take his place in the technical area. "I'll lead my team out in a suit," he said, "but on the touchline I'll be in my tracksuit - I've got to have my battle gear on!"
And the message he will give his players for the battle? "I'll tell them to do what they've done all season, to fight for every inch on the pitch, to give absolutely everything for the football club. We have the ability in the team, and if we do all the nitty gritty and work hard like we do, we'll give ourselves a great chance."
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