By Nathan BeesEveryone loves the FA Cup, don’t they?
At this time of year, ahead of the First Round proper, every football personality in the country blogs about how much they love the world’s oldest cup competition. The magic of it, the welcome distraction it provides from the bread and butter of the league campaign and the unpredictable drama it provides year after year all help to make it the much-loved national institution that it is.
I don’t disagree with any of those sentiments. The FA Cup is a competition that has provided me with several of the most memorable football experiences I have ever had and I am excited by the prospect of another piece of history emerging from Rovers’ exploits this time around.
The 3-1 win at then Premier League side Derby County in 2001, the Fulham and Southampton wins of 2008 and even the subsequent defeat to West Bromwich Albion in that year’s Quarter Finals are games that every Gashead recall with great fondness. Without doubt they are moments in time we can be very proud of.
In my opinion there is no reason why 2014-2015 can’t provide a couple of new additions to the above list of cup shocks.
I know we are in the Vanarama Conference now and people of a red persuasion in the city will say ‘you’ve got no chance, you’re a non-league club’, but we all remember what the likes of Havant & Waterlooville and Luton Town pulled off in recent years.
Form and reputation goes out the window in this competition, so I don’t read anything into the jibes thrown at us from supporters of other clubs. Anything can happen in the FA Cup and that’s what makes it so special - the underdog so often prevails.
The victory at Pride Park is a prime example of that. In all honesty not even a psychic would have had the audacity to claim we would win that day given how poor we were that year. We finished one from bottom of the entire Football League and morale around the club was non-existent, yet we destroyed Frabrizio Ravanelli & co. with an absolutely superb all-round performance that was encapsulated by the electric display of Nathan Ellington.
Admittedly we are now at a lower level than we were then but confidence levels are an awful lot higher and we are optimistic about what we can achieve this season. That counts for a huge amount in football and should stand us in good stead.
Of course, any potential upset we inflict this season will be that bit bigger and that bit more newsworthy given where we ply our trade. The fact we are fifth in the table and hoping to achieve promotion come April makes us, in my view, prime giant-killing material. When you consider our opponents Tranmere Rovers are a mere 6 places above us in the English football ladder, I don’t think it is beyond the realms of possibility that we can cause an upset… of sorts.
Micky Adams and his team, however, will be looking to build on their recent improvement in form by earning their first win since his appointment. They are rightly the favourites to progress and we need to respect that, even if we do head to Prenton Park with confidence. A lot of players are playing to secure futures at the football club and they will want to get a positive result tomorrow to demonstrate why they are the ones playing league football.
With that expectancy comes pressure, though, and it will be interesting to see how our hosts cope with it. We will arrive there with absolutely nothing to lose and that makes us a dangerous opponent if they aren’t right on their game and up for a battle.
It looks as though none of the ex-Gas contingent at Tranmere will feature in the game as they might have hoped when the draw was made. Matt Gill has had his contract paid up and he departed earlier this week, Danny Woodards is out injured (which rather sums up his career in recent years) and Eliot Richards has been told by Adams he is nowhere near close to making the first team.
While it may be slightly disappointing for some Gasheads that they won’t be involved, it does at least mean the ‘ex-player scoring against Rovers’ curse won’t strike this weekend!
Andy Monkhouse will be absent from the travelling party after the Conference rejected our appeal against his dismissal at AFC Telford but we do have a new man in contention to play a part. Darrell Clarke yesterday completed the loan signing of Fulham midfielder Lyle Della-Verde and he has gone straight into the squad ahead of tomorrow’s game.
It remains to be seen whether he will be given a starting role just two days after putting pen to paper but it will be good to have him as an option as he is highly regarded by his parent club. He appears to be a direct, attack-minded player and I am excited to see what he can bring to the team in the weeks ahead.
After Tranmere we have a midweek trip to Alfreton Town before welcoming Kidderminster Harriers to The Mem next Saturday for our first home fixture in four weeks. The games come thick and fast again in November and the aim has to be consolidating our place in the top five and, hopefully, pushing on. We face leaders Barnet towards the end of the month as well and if by then we have reduced the 10 point gap we have a good opportunity to really knock them off their perch.
Let’s worry about the FA Cup first, though.
Come on Rovers, come on you blues!