Millwall show the power of persistence
As the old saying goes, if at first you don't succeed try, try again.
Millwall's defeat of Swindon in Saturday's League One play-off final was a victory for the power of persistence.
After five play-off defeats for the south London club, during which they won just twice in 13 games, the Lions and their supporters can finally celebrate promotion through the end of season knock-out.
The scenes at the final whistle after their 1-0 victory spoke of Millwall's relief and exhilaration at ending an unwanted sequence of failure and frustration.
The Lions lost four semi-final ties before reaching last year's final, which culminated in a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to Scunthorpe when Martyn Woolford struck an 85th-minute winner.
Last season's match was the pick of the 2009 play-off finals, but it did not feel all that great for the Lions players as they sat in their dressing room afterwards.
Veteran Harris celebrates finally winning promotion through the play-offs
It was at that point that manager Kenny Jackett spoke to his players about the importance of making sure that all their hard work did not go to waste.
"The club came a long way last season, finishing fifth in the league and reaching the play-off final," said Jackett.
"But after losing we felt disappointed and we had to make sure we built on the anger of that defeat."
For a while at the start of the current season it looked as though Jackett's team were suffering a hangover painful enough to wreck their chances of mounting another promotion campaign.
Millwall won just two of their first 10 league games, and struggled with injuries before Christmas, but the Lions lost only twice after the turn of the year to finish third in the League One table, a single point behind Leeds.
They defeated Swindon 3-2 on the final day of the regular season - and would have snatched the second automatic promotion place from Leeds if the Yorkshire club had not overcome a 1-0 deficit against Bristol Rovers.
"We were so proud of almost catching Leeds so there was no disappointment after the Swindon game," said striker Neil Harris, the club's all-time leading scorer.
"We have a bunch of players who are winners. We are so motivated and focused and it has been like that all season."
They did not concede a goal in their three play-off games, defeating Huddersfield 2-0 on aggregate in their semi-final tie, and only the truly mean spirited would suggest they are not worthy of promotion.
Certainly, Millwall appeared to handle the pressure of being in a Wembley final better than Swindon, particularly during the opening half.
Jackett, who had lost previous play-off finals at both Swansea and Millwall, felt that the experience of the defeat against Scunthorpe was an important factor.
This year he tried to keep the build-up to the match as normal as possible and his squad wore tracksuits - not sharp suits - on the day of the final as they attempted to mimic their normal match-day routine.
Neil Harris added: "There has been a sense of calmness among the squad over the last two weeks.
"It is about playing the game and not the occasion and sometimes, as a senior player, I have got to remind people of that."
Within seconds of Saturday's match kicking off Liam Trotter calmly collected the ball in the centre circle and switched play. It looked relatively insignificant but it impressed Harris, who took it as sign that his team-mates were relaxed and composed. He knew then that Millwall would win.
Harris was visibly delighted as he talked about the joy of finally winning a play-off campaign after four previous failures. Jackett appeared less emotional as he answered questions about the final, but his words spoke of his pride in the club's achievement.
"This is undoubtedly my biggest achievement as a manager," added Jackett. "It takes something to keep going after a play-off defeat."
Jackett is regarded as a calm and studious manager who must be applauded for the job he has done since taking over at a club fourth from bottom at the time of his appointment in November 2007.
His Swindon counterpart Danny Wilson took over at the County Ground in December 2008 and the 50-year-old's first 18 months in charge at the Wiltshire club are similar to what Jackett went through at the New Den.
Wilson kept the Robins up after taking over mid-season at a struggling club and has now taken them to within 90 minutes of promotion in his first full campaign.
The challenge now is for them to emulate what Jackett did at Millwall and use the hurt of a play-off defeat as a positive motivation.
Wilson, arms on his hips, facial expression speaking of the pain of defeat, watched from the Wembley turf as the opposition players collected their winners' medals.
"We have to look at Millwall, how they have bounced back brilliantly, we have to take [inspiration] from that," said Wilson.
Wilson and his team hope to learn from their defeat
Wilson has to pick his players up, none more so than striker Charlie Austin, whose nightmare miss in the second half came at the end of a dream season for the 20-year-old.
Austin started his campaign with Poole Town in the Wessex League Premier Division and ended it playing in a Wembley final, scoring 20 goals along the way for the Robins after making his debut in October.
But he shot woefully wide with only the keeper to beat after 72 minutes, wasting Swindon's best chance. Every Millwall fan I spoke to admitted he expected Austin to score.
Wilson was keen to stress that the ball hit a bobble and looped up in the split second before Austin made contact but I imagine that will be no consolation right now.
After the final whistle the inconsolable Austin tried to escape from the outside world by burying his head in a towel. It was an image that conveyed everything you ever need to know about the pain of defeat.
As I write these words early on Saturday evening some comic has already tweaked Austin's Wikipedia profile so that he is described as a "bottler", with a middle name of "Bobble".
The challenge now for everyone connected with Swindon is to ensure that in 12 months
time any profile ends by mentioning the club's promotion to the Championship.