If anybody knows how to emerge victorious from the play-offs, it's Alex Neil - it's what he achieved with Norwich City back in 2015. 

Neil has a habit of successfully navigating play-off campaigns - in the three he has been involved with as a manager at Hamilton, Norwich, and Sunderland, he has emerged victorious. 

Heading into them, there is always a desire to search for trends and have discussions about momentum and form, but Neil believes the key is mentality, a positive mindset and easing the pressure without removing the importance.  

"They've all looked slightly different in different ways, but they've all got the same underlying themes," Neil told the Pink Un. 

"You need to get a good balance between building the game up and not scaring the players. That is what I always focused on - trying to get them in that sweet spot of determined, focused, confident without being fearful.

"So much is at stake, and it's easy for players to get fearful with 'what if we lose?'. In every play-off campaign that I've been in, that's not even been on our radar. It's all about 'when we win'.

"I've never gone into any of the play-off games even contemplating losing them. You've got to breed confidence into them because players, in their weakest moments when they do doubt themselves, will look to you as the coach because there is so much pressure on them.

"They carry a massive amount, and what you've got to try and do as a coach is lighten that load, get confidence into them and give them the belief. The worst thing you can do is be fearful of losing, you need to embrace the fact you're going to win." 

Neil's play-off campaign at Norwich was the culmination of a six-month spell of incredible winning form that transformed their fortunes.

Norwich Evening News: Alex Neil led Norwich to Wembley success against Middlesbrough.Alex Neil led Norwich to Wembley success against Middlesbrough. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

The Scot replaced Neil Adams in January 2015, inspiring a run of winning form that saw Norwich push Watford and eventual champions Bournemouth for the title.

In the end, they had to settle for the play-offs, and Neil recalled how they shook off the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion to reset for a two-legged semi-final against rivals Ipswich Town.

"We went on such a good run at the end of the season, that we went into the play-offs a bit disappointed," he said. 

"The game that stands out in my mind was Middlesbrough at home. If we'd won that game, I think we would have put ourselves in real contention for automatic promotion.

"We won something like 17 games out of 25 which is incredible to the end of the season, but we felt in a really good space.

"I remember going into the play-offs thinking that we were the form team and we were unfortunate that we didn't make automatics, but I was extremely confident that we could go and win the play-offs.

"The first test was most difficult when you've got your local rivals in Ipswich and what that games entails and the importance of it."

Given the high-stakes nature of the Championship play-offs, adding an East Anglian derby into the mix heightened the emotions and magnitude of the contest even further.

Despite that, Neil explained why he retained confidence that his playing group in 2015 could rise to the occasion and offered an insight into his strategy for the first leg at Portman Road. 

"My play-off and my derby record, at pretty much every club that I've been at, has been excellent, so I never really feared derbies," Neil said. 

"I always stressed the importance to the fans and what it means for the local bragging rights. It's not just a normal game because you can have a really good season. If you lose that derby, then there is real negativity surrounding it. But if you win it, there's a double positivity around it.

Norwich Evening News: Norwich had to successfully navigate a two-legged semi-final against Ipswich Town.Norwich had to successfully navigate a two-legged semi-final against Ipswich Town. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

"My mindset was to go to Ipswich in the first leg and make sure we didn't lose. I genuinely felt that if we got them back to our place level pegging, that we would have enough. In the first game I didn't play Wes [Hoolahan] because they were very physical at the time.

"They had Daryl Murphy with Freddie Sears running off him. They had Cole Skuse in the middle and were a physical team, so we had to match that at their place, absorb the atmosphere and make sure we came out unscathed - which we did by drawing it.

"I was extremely confident that we would have enough quality, enough backing with the local support and enough big game players to make sure that we won the home leg."

After edging past Ipswich, Neil then had to mastermind a victory at Wembley against a Middlesbrough side that had beaten Norwich on both occasions in the regular campaign, just as Leeds have done this term. 

He explains why that Carrow Road defeat in April, coupled with a few statistics, gave him confidence that his Norwich team could finish the job. 

"I was so, so confident for the final even though Middlesbrough had beaten us at our place. That game really set the template for me to break down and figure out the best way of winning the game.

"I've said this numerous times before, but losing that game helped us win the final. There were a lot of underlying stats that I was aware of that most fans wouldn't have been.

"I think Middlesbrough, in the previous three seasons, had only come back twice from being a goal down to win. They'd never come back from being two goals down. I was conscious of that.

"Our game plan initially was to start quick and to get that first goal. The first point was that they turned up late. We felt immediately that we had an advantage in that they weren't prepared as well as they would have been for that game. We wanted to make that count early in the game and we did that." 

Norwich Evening News: David Wagner is hoping to follow in Alex Neil's shoes by achieving play-off glory with Norwich City.David Wagner is hoping to follow in Alex Neil's shoes by achieving play-off glory with Norwich City. (Image: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd)

David Wagner is now hoping to replicate Neil's feat by taking Norwich to Wembley first, via a play-off semi-final victory over Leeds United, and then back to the Premier League. 

Neil is confident that the Canaries have enough in their squad to cause the Whites problems over two legs, especially now they are boosted by the return of several key attacking players. 

"My concern for Norwich was, 'Who is going to be fit?' I know Ashley Barnes has been struggling, but if Norwich have a fully fit squad to choose from, I think they will grow in confidence from that.

"A lot of their experienced players will be available and have been around the block before. They will be a handful for Leeds in the game in terms of what it's going to look for.

"David Wagner has brought a more robustness to Norwich. They don't necessarily need to dominate the ball to win games now. Defensively, they've been stronger and can be more stuffy than they have been in the past.

"If Norwich have everyone fit, guys like Rowe, Sargent and Sara can produce moments. Sargent in particular, because I don't think they have anybody quite like him with his running power. He's got a bit of everything.

"It'll be really interesting because Leeds are full throttle and have real pace down the sides. It'll be a really good game." 

The parting message from the former Norwich boss was simple: "Let's not be fooled - I'll be supporting Norwich in the play-offs and I want them to go up."