HARD as nails centre half Sean O’Hanlon thinks Dons are just a win and a draw away from making sure of a League One play-off place, and wants to beat rivals Peterborough United in the semi-final.
The 28-year-old returned to the starting line-up to help Dons to a dramatic 3-2 win over Carlisle United on Saturday, and is determined to help his side make it third time lucky in the play-offs.
O’Hanlon has seen and done it all with Dons since joining in the summer of 2006 from Swindon, and knows what it takes to make the top six better than most in the squad. But he’s yet to taste promotion via the play-offs with Dons and is determined to put that right after the disappointments of 2007 and 2009. Now going up is all the club’s players are talking about.
He said: “For the last few months we’ve been talking about it because we’ve been on such a good run. At one stage a lot of teams had games in hand around us, but it’s better to have the points on the board, and there’s a little gap there.
“I personally think a win and a draw will probably do it. But we’ll try and win every game and hopefully those above us will slip up because we’re looking up not down now and want to capitalise on any mistakes.”
Rochdale leapfrogged Bournemouth into the final play-off place on Tuesday night as they beat second placed Southampton 2-0 at Deepdale, meaning the battle to finish as runners-up to Brighton - who finally sealed their promotion by beating Dagenham - is now starting to look wide open again. And O’Hanlon is determined that Dons will be the side to take advantage of any Saints slip in the final month of the season, meaning a win against Huddersfield next Friday is a must.
“The teams who are chasing us, we’d like to think we’re better than them. They’ve got to win all their games and we’ve got to lose some, so I’d say we’re pretty much there,” he said.
“Huddersfield are the last side we have to play who are above us, so we need to make sure we beat them. I think second place is Southampton’s to throw away, but if they do slip up then we need to beat Huddersfield in order to be the team to take advantage.
“We’ll be checking their results and hope they get beat. But they’re a great side and I’m not sure they’ll slip up. They’ll probably win enough home games.”
After suffering play-off heartbreak twice before, O’Hanlon says it will be good to go into it this time with the pressure off after losing to Shrewsbury and Scunthorpe as the favourites. And just making the top six this time round is a bonus he says.
“I don’t think we were ever expected to challenge the top two, and the lads realised that,” he said. “At one point we put ourselves in a great position, but just to make it will be a great achievement with a young team and a young manager.
“We never expected to finish in second. Southampton are expecting to and anything less for them is a failure, but for us finishing sixth will be a success.”
If and when Dons do seal the points they need to make sure of the top six, O’Hanlon knows who he wants to play.
“I’d like Peterborough or Bouremouth in the play-offs - probably Peterborough because there’s not much travelling involved and we always have good games against them. I’d fancy beating Peterborough. But think we’ll be capable of beating anyone over two legs.”
But before Dons can start thinking about a play-off semi final or even better, they must make sure they pick up three points against a Swindon side fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table. Last season’s beaten finalists are five points from safety, but did record their first win in 19 games when they won 1-0 at Brentford last week.
“It’s a difficult time for them but that win has given them a boost and they have to win to stand a chance of staying up so it’s going to be a tough one,” said O’Hanlon, who says he wants to keep his place in the side after recently making way for Mathias Doumbe and Gary MacKenzie to play at centre back.
“Competition is good for the side because everyone is buzzing in training and working hard. The boss has some difficult decisions to make,” he said.
Now O’Hanlon says Dons will prepare for every game the same, and hope that on this occasion the play-off Gods are with them.
“We beat Brighton who were top of the league but prepared the same way as when we lost to Yeovil. But the play-offs are great to be involved in. It would just be nice to make the final this time - third time lucky.
“This time we might be the lowest ranked playing the highest ranked, so it’s not going to matter where we finish. I was injured for the last one and had to watch the penalties, and I don’t want to go through that again.”