This year's Sky Bet EFL Play-Offs begin tonight with Newport County v Mansfield Town. Ahead of the big kick-off, we've been speaking to a man who made history with County as a manager almost a decade ago...
Dean Holdsworth led the club to the National League with a record points tally in 2010, and later that year came up against Mansfield Town, managed by none other than his twin brother!
Here's what he's had to say about tonight's clash, his memories of managing Newport and coming up against his brother, David...
It’s Newport v Mansfield tonight in the first Play-Off Semi-Final. Do you think Newport’s cup runs from earlier this season will stand them in good stead?
“Newport had a wonderful run in the cups this season, and I think the Play-Offs are a cup situation. They’ve got the ability to win on the big occasion so, as much as Mansfield were unlucky to miss out on automatic promotion, Newport has been a daunting place to go for a number of high-profile teams. The fans are very close to the pitch, it’s a very testing pitch, so I think both teams will have to be at their best to win. It will be a good occasion. They’re cup finals now, it’s not over a length of time now, it’s down to individual games. It will lead to either happiness or disappointment, that’s the Play-Offs.”
How much does form play a part, or is it a case that form goes out of the window, as the saying goes?
“It’s all about momentum. Mansfield may be feeling sorry for themselves after not getting automatic promotion, they might not be looking forward to going to Newport, while Newport will feel they’ve earned their luck and will want to see where the next week can take them.”
How impressed have you been with Mansfield this season, despite that disappointment on the final day?
“Extremely impressed. Over the years, Mansfield have been a club that you always thought would be playing at a higher level, and this season has been a step forward for the club. I’ve read about the club and how it’s being run and I think that they’re going in the right direction.”
Your managerial reign at Newport must be one of the highlights of your career, promotion with 103 points on the board…
“We had an amazing time and, when we got promotion, we were the first club in Europe to do so that year. We could have easily switched off, but I challenged the team to get to over 100 points and make history, and they carried on right until the end. They became legends at the club, which was a fantastic achievement for the players; I’ll never forget the emotion of that night when we beat Havant at home in front of 5,500 fans, it was amazing for everyone involved.”
At any point, did you have to step in and make sure the players didn’t take their foot off the gas?
“Every single training session. It was always the same, we didn’t stop. We carried on talking as a group, they respected me and what we wanted to achieve together, so going into games we had a good mentality. As players, if you let your standards drop, there are always players on the bench who are ready to come on. It was always good, we had great characters in the team and they managed my comments. They knew I’d be disappointed if we dropped off and they didn’t want that for each other either, they were all outstanding.”
You and your brother became the first twins to manage against each other in one of English football’s top five divisions while he was at Mansfield, what was that like?
[laughs] Yeah, and we won! It was an amazing goal too, a set-piece we’d worked on. I knew that my brother would expect certain things from my players, so it would come down to the finer details. We worked on this set-piece, passing it across the box from a corner, one player running over it with another arriving. He was doing his laces up on the edge of the centre circle when we got the corner, but arrived and caught it superbly – it was a great goal. I have a wry smile about it when we see each other; it was a tough game against a strong team.”
Finally, the other League Two Play-Off Semi-Final is Tranmere Rovers v Forest Green Rovers, how do you see that going?
“Tranmere have been right up there before and Forest Green are a good, well-run club. The owner’s backing has helped them get where they are; it’s a nice club and one that I visit quite a lot. Mark has got a team of decent players, but both sides are there on merit, so you’d think it will be an entertaining game. Forest Green aren’t known for clean sheets, they score and concede goals, but pass the ball well too.”
You can follow coverage of Newport v Mansfield via Twitter (@EFL and @SkyBetLeagueTwo).