CONOR Hourihane knows more about the end-of-season pressure surrounding play-off places better than most.
The Bandon man helped Derby County move back into the top six – and promotion places – in League One after a 1-0 home win against Burton Albion last Saturday. This came hot on the heels of a 2-1 away win to Exeter City, as the Rams find form at the right time.
‘They are big back-to-back wins at a really crucial time,’ says Derby midfielder Hourihane, who has been named in the Sky Bet League One Team of the Season for the 2022/23 campaign. With Peterborough losing 3-0 to Ipswich Town it has allowed Derby get back into the top six with just two games to go before play-off places are decided.
After the league finishes the teams from third to sixth take part in the play-offs to decide who will earn the third promotion spot to the Championship. Derby, level on points with Bolton and two points ahead of Peterborough, have their fate in their own hands heading into their last two games – home to Portsmouth on Saturday followed by a tricky final-day game away to promotion-chasing Sheffield Wednesday on May 7th.
‘We want to be in there (top six) once the final two games are played,’ Hourihane says. ‘You can't get away from it because everyone is speaking about it straight away in the dressing room after games.
‘We've got a couple of matches to go now and there will be no doubt a great atmosphere in our last home fixture next Saturday against Portsmouth and hopefully we can get the result that everyone wants.’
If Derby get the results they need, in Hourihane they have a man well used to this stage of the season. He has won promotion finals at Wembley with Barnsley (2016, League One) and Aston Villa (Championship, 2019) and also suffered heartbreak as well, with Villa (Championship final, 2018) and Swansea (Championship final, 2021). First, Derby need to get to the play-offs, and all Hourihane’s focus is on Portsmouth this Saturday.