Chichester City’s players and management say an FA Cup trip to face a League One side holds no fears – and they will relish the task of making life difficult for their hosts.
They will travel to Wycombe Wanderers or Tranmere – both of whom play in English football’s third tier – in just over a fortnight for the biggest game the club has ever played.
Wycombe, who are second in League One with a formidable home record, and Tranmere, 18th in the same division, have a replay at Wanderers’ Adams Park home next Wednesday to see who will entertain the lowest-ranked team left in the Cup.
City will go into the tie as massive underdogs – they play five divisions below their hosts. But they know that if they can nick one more win in this season’s remarkable Cup run, they will be in the hat with Liverpool, Manchester City and the rest of the Premier League and Championship sides.
Having beaten three teams from step three of non-league on their way to the ‘proper’ rounds, City are not a team to worry about facing higher-league opposition, but they know this is a very different proposition.
Chi City manager Miles Rutherford said: “It’s fantastic for us. You keep pinching yourself as to where you are.
“Two years we turned up to training and there was a sign on the door saying we were not allowed in the club. We were in a bad place.
“We were playing county league football two years ago then last year we won it.
“We’ve only got two players who were playing at step four (Chi’s current level) last year, the rest were playing county league. We’re a county league squad and in the second round of the FA Cup – unbelievable. The fairytale goes on.
“Everyone would have been praying to pull Chichester out of the hat in the draw. The other non-league sides would have loved to pull us, and so would I if I were one of them.
“We will go there and do our best. The players, if they work as hard as they can, will try to make it difficult for whoever we go to. It will be fantastic for all the players.
“All the players will be so excited and I expect there’ll be lots of nerves on the day.
Rutherford felt his squad would adapt well to the need to focus on other competitions in the meantime, mainly the Isthmian south east campaign.
“The players know how important the league is. Of course they’re all going to want to play in that game but it doesn’t matter what happens between now and when we play in the FA Cup, we are going to be playing the same sort of side week in week out,” Rutherford said.
“We’ll be gutted for someone if they get injured but we can’t worry about it.”
Rutherford said many would perhaps prefer to play Tranmere. “They’ve been a big league club but we’ll be happy with either.
“Wycombe are flying in the league at the moment so we’d rather play Tranmere.
“The biggest thing for me is I’d love to see lots of Chichester supporters up there and I’d like to see lots of supporters turning up at Oaklands Park before then.”
Skipper Connor Cody added: “It’s a fantastic draw. I’d have loved a home draw but it’s a big awayday to a League One side which wasn’t in our wildest dreams.
“If we do get Tranmere, it is very close to Bury and Bury fans have promised to come and watch, which would be amazing. We could sell out the away end, which would be fantastic. It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
In recent seasons Chi have failed to get past the extra preliminary round of the Cup and Cody added: “In August, there was a lot of pressure on us to get through that first round. We hadn’t got past that for a couple of years, so to get through seven rounds... we never expected it and we’ve got to enjoy every moment.
“Over the next two weeks it’s going to be about preparation to give a good account of ourselves.
“We’re playing League One opposition and those boys are professional players playing day in day out.
“We need to give a good account of ourselves, which I know the boys are capable of. The management have got good experience and I think we can give it a good go.”
Cody explained why he’d prefer to see Tranmere go through. “Wycombe have got (Adebayo) Akinfenwa who I don’t really fancy myself against – he’s quite a big guy.
“It would be great to get the Bury fans there (at Tranmere) because part of this FA Cup story is Bury FC and their misfortune.”