BLACKBURN Rovers defender Matt Kilgallon knows exactly what it takes to get into the Championship play-offs.
But he also knows the pain that can lie at the end of them.
The 30-year-old reached the play-off final with Leeds United and Sheffield United.
But on both occasions he ended on the losing side.
Kilgallon was part of the Leeds team that were stunned 3-0 by Watford at the Millennium Stadium in 2006 and three years later he was unable to prevent the Blades from going down 1-0 to Burnley at Wembley.
Little wonder, then, that the experienced centre back is desperate to make it third time lucky with Rovers.
“To get through the semi-finals were great experiences and then going to Wembley and the Millennium Stadium to play in the finals is something I will never forget,” said Kilgallon.
“But believe me, knowing that we’d have to go again in the Championship, it was a long summer after losing them.
“So if we do get into the play-offs I’d love to help this team get up.”
Kilgallon says there is a growing belief in the Rovers camp that they can make the top six.
Since the disappointing defeat at Ipswich Town on December 3 Gary Bowyer’s side have lost just two of their last 12 league games, winning five and drawing five to leave them just four points behind Reading in sixth.
But Kilgallon believes there can little room for error as he feels the current top five could be set in stone.
“I think it’s just for that sixth spot at the moment, that’s how it’s looking and there are some good teams going for it,” he said. “But you have to be a good team to get into the play-offs.
“We are quite happy with where we are at the moment but we know we need to get two or three wins on the bounce if we are to get into the driving seat.
“We’ve definitely got the ability to do it but it’s not as easy as you think to get those wins.
“If it was everyone would be fighting for the play-offs. There are genuinely no easy games in the Championship.
“But we’ve got a belief now that we can put a few wins together and go on a good run.”
As Kilgallon knows only too well, even if Rovers were to make the play-offs there is no guarantee that a return to the Premier League would follow.
But the Sunderland stopper is confident boss Bowyer is putting together a squad that could compete again next season if they were to remain in the Championship.
Kilgallon has been taken by the job that Bowyer has done in his first full season in the Rovers hotseat – and he not the only one.
“I get people ringing me saying, ‘ask the gaffer if…’ – I feel like a player and an agent these days!” joked Kilgallon.
“The gaffer is doing a great job and I think Blackburn is getting its reputation back again of being a massive club in the Championship which has good players.”
Kilgallon was one of 15 summer signings made by Bowyer as he began the process of transforming Rovers from a club that nearly got relegated last season to one that can challenge for promotion this time around.
But it is only now that Kilgallon’s place at the heart of the defence is secure.
After joining on a free transfer from Sunderland he missed the start of the season with a groin injury and then had to wait for his chance.
But Kilgallon is now firmly established himself as new club captain’s Grant Hanley centre-back partner after skipper Scott Dann left for Crystal Palace on the final day of last month’s transfer window.
Since Dann’s departure Kilgallon – whose sound defending and composure on the ball has impressed – has helped Rovers keep back-to-back clean sheets.
He said: “I’m feeling really good and enjoying playing again.
“I didn’t enjoy not playing Saturdays and Tuesdays but I kept myself fit as it’s a long season and you never know when you’re going to get your chance.
“When you’re younger you find it harder to be patient because you’re not as experienced and you think everyone is against you.
“But it changes when you get a bit older. You can be called up at anytime and that’s what happened. Scott went in and I was fit to go in the next game.
“I’ve been happy with my performances and as a back four we’re looking good – and hopefully that will continue.”