It brings a little tingle, doesn’t it? The March to the Arch begins for Borough on Saturday, when they welcome Carshalton Athletic in the second qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup at Priory Lane.
I caught up with the Gaffer in midweek, to review the recent progress and look ahead to this afternoon’s appetising tie…
A lower-league club at home should as favourable a draw as any manager can hope for, but for Jamie Howell it is nowhere near as simple. “When you land a draw like this, the expectations immediately soar up – not within the squad, perhaps, but from outside. Anyone who thinks we can just turn up for this game would be fooling themselves.
“We know quite a bit about Carshalton Athletic and we respect them a lot. Their team is packed with skill, they play free-flowing football – notably they also have a 3G pitch – and they will be quick and lively. We will need to be at our very best to beat them.
“It should be a great occasion, but we certainly have enough to get through.”
Carshalton are league leaders in Bostik South, and in any case it goes without saying that underdogs never under-achieve. The Surrey side will arrive at Priory Lane in buoyant form, unbeaten in all competitions. Player-manager Peter Adeniyi is himself an exciting attacking player who caught the eye in Steve King’s great Lewes sides a few seasons back, and their squad includes a certain Raheem Sterling. Seriously? No, in fact it is the Manchester City star’s almost-namesake, Raheem Sterling-Parker.
The world’s greatest cup competition is always a Holy Grail for supporters, and progress through the three remaining qualifying rounds would earn Borough around £25,000 in prize money alone. The Sports have a good recent record, reaching Fourth Qualifying three times in the last four seasons, and last year they went one better, with a famous victory at Aldershot earning a First Round Proper trip to Braintree – and an infamous 0-7 defeat.
But Jamie, new in post this season of course, has nothing to prove, and recent form has been impressive. “I didn’t start the season with too many exact expectations. This is a new team with great potential which we are steadily fulfilling.” The league season had begun, of course, with a couple of minor catastrophes, losing 3-2 to both Braintree Town and Havant and Waterlooville – not to mention the four red cards in three games – oops, I just did mention them…
“That wasn’t exactly the start I’d have chosen! But look how far we have come in the couple of months since. We have got to know each other, bedded in a really good team shape, and of course we have been able to strengthen the squad with two or three extra new faces.”
“The eight-game unbeaten run was really encouraging and well deserved. We played with credit against Dartford, who are a formidably strong side. The matches have come crazily thick and fast, and I think the St Albans game last Saturday had taken a bit out of us.”
“At Dartford we had a lot of possession, we passed the ball well and controlled a lot of the game. I’m pleased with that, I love the terrific effort and energy that the players are giving, I like the thinking that they’re doing.”
“Without over-stating, we are – for our level – a little bit like an Arsenal or a Liverpool. We can be fantastic box to box, our combination play is smart, but we need to be better actually in both boxes. Set-pieces, final balls in – we must be better with both delivering and defending those. Dartford beat us because they made their chances count. My players and staff are on board with what we are creating at Borough, and I think the supporters are with us too, and enjoying it.”
“We have had one or two knocks and strains, but players are now coming through those and we are virtually at full strength. We deliberately planned just a light training session on Thursday, to get our minds and bodies right, and we’ll be raring to go on Saturday!”
Updated 15:04 - 14 Sep 2017 by Lee Peskett