Chichester City head off for the next step of their FA Vase adventure with boss Miles Rutherford insisting: I’m happy we’re the underdogs.
They visit North West Counties League team 1874 Northwich in the last 16 of the competition – knowing they will be just two games from the Wembley final if they can pull off a win.
Having beaten Deal, Whitstable and Horley Town to reach the latest stage of the competition they have ever got to, City travel north in confident mood but with Rutherford warning against any assumptions they will go through.
Northwich are ninth but with many games in hand on all the sides above them in their league’s premier division, which is effectively at the same tier of football that City are at in the Southern Combination premier.
There’s a prize pot of £2,250 for winners of this weekend’s fift-round ties, City already having banked £3,900 from their wins in three previous rounds.
City have had a pre-match boost with news their former star striker will be in the squad after leaving Worthing. Another forward, Dave Herbert, is also in contention as he is dual-signed with Worthing.
Rutherford said: “It’s exciting for the club, the players and everyone connected. It’s a big game.
“We’ve decided to go up on Friday, otherwise the Saturday would have been too much of a long day. It’s a bit of an upheaval for some but when you’re looking forward to a game it’s good for the club, good for the players and creates a good atmosphere for everyone.
“We’ll go up there and give it our best shot. We’re not expecting an easy game at all.
We know that Northwich will be a very strong side. They’ve made lots of signings recently as well and we know that we’ve got a very tough game ahead but it’s something we’re looking forward to.
“It’s not made any easier for us because we’re missing a couple of players. The whole club is looking forward to it, though. It would be fantastic to get into the last eight.
“On the day it’s eleven against eleven. There’s always a chance but we’re not expecting an easy ride one bit. We know it’s going to be a really tough game.”
Rutherford is not allowing himself to take City’s recent good form – they have not lost since the Boxing Day derby defeat to Pagham – as too much of an indicator for the Vase game.
“I look at it a little bit different to some people. Some managers look at games and go we’re fantastic, we’re this, we’re that but I’m a little bit different,” he said.
“Some people may say I’m a little bit negative but I go into games wanting to be an underdog and I always played games like that. It brings the best out in some people. I think our side’s a bit like that as well.
“If you go into games thinking we’ve got a very good chance of winning the game sometimes games go against you. So I’m excited we are playing a very good side.
“They’re an unknown quantity and I’m hoping the players react on the day and we put in a good performance. I’ve said this to the players all year – when we play sides that we know are going to give us a tough game, if you get beaten and you perform well on the day you can’t ask for anything more. It’s about attitudes and work rates and that’s all I ask.
“If everyone works as hard as they can and you get beaten on the day then you won’t be disappointed as a manager but it’s different when you go to games and you’ve got people that don’t do what you know they can do effort-wise.
“Sometimes everyone has a bad day but if you work hard and you lose the game all you can say is we’ve tried and we’ve done our best. I’m hoping everyone gives me 100 per cent on the day and 100 per cent work rate. I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Next Ian Worden chatted to midfield maestro Lorenzo Dolcetti.
Q You’ve got a massive game coming up next Saturday with the FA Vase last sixteen game. How are the players feeling?
A We are buzzing. It’s a great occasion for us. We were really happy to beat Horley Town and get to the last sixteen. We want to go further obviously.
Q Are you aware of the significance, the magnitude of this? This is history that’s being made here because the club has never been this far before in the competition.
A I can really feel it because I’m from Italy and it’s my first time in the FA Vase. From the manager, from the players, from the club you can feel that it’s an important situation for us. We are trying to prepare as good as possible before we go up to Manchester. We will try to do our best.
Q Do you think there will be some nerves in the team before the match and on match day?
A I think we are calm and relaxed. We know what our strengths are. We know what we have to do to win. To be fair, I think we have a good group of lads with loads of quality in the team. So if we turn up on the day and do our job and put in a good performance I’m sure we can get a result.
Q You might not think of yourself as one of the senior players at the club yet. There’s some great youngsters coming through. How do you think the senior players feel knowing that there’s a strength in depth now and real pace in players like Fuzz, Sam and Kaleem?
A Compared to last year we have more quality players and our bench is a great strength of our team this year. Also some Under 18s are getting involved in the first team. This is really good for the club. I’m really happy that they’ve been getting a chance because they deserve it.
Now we hear from assistant manager Graeme Gee...
Q Big match coming up this Saturday with the last 16 of the FA Vase game at 1874 Northwich. What are your thoughts going into the game?
A We’ll go up there. We’ll be confident. We’ll try and stamp our authority on the game but we know there’s a huge task ahead of us. We’ve had reports telling us just how strong they are. Their league position doesn’t really tell a lot. I think by the end of the season they’ll be challenging for the league title.
They’ve made a few signings in the last month, so we know we have got a massive task ahead of us but we put faith in the players we’ve got at the club and we’ll go up there and try our very best to get a result whether that’s victory or a draw. But we’re under no illusions about how huge a game it is, not just for the club but for the people of Chichester who come and support us and hopefully we can do them proud.
I believe we’ve probably done a little bit better than we anticipated. To get to the last 16 is a credit to all the players and staff at the club and I’m really pleased for the people behind the scenes that go unnoticed like Nigel the groundsman, the girls that work behind the bar, the gate-person and others. And it’s good to get a little bit of coverage in the national press and at the moment Chichester’s a good place to be.
Q And will you approach this game any differently?
A We’ll travel a day earlier about midday and get the lads settled into the hotel. It’s no big deal, it’s just another game but obviously there’s a significance on it because a lot of people haven’t been this deep in the competition.
I imagine there might be a few nerves kicking around but we’ll prepare them as well as we can. We’ll have something to eat in the hotel Friday night and travel down to Wincham on Saturday afternoon for the game.
Q You go into the game in good form after five wins on the spin now since Boxing Day. And there’s some confidence in the team and you’ve got some good young players that have been involved in recent weeks.
A We’ve got a good crop of youngsters coming through that we try to blood in the side every now and then. As for form, Boxing Day is now a distant memory. For one, I personally didn’t get too upset at the result. Yes, it was a massive blow for everyone concerned at the club but I’ve been around football long enough to know that things can change massively in football from one week to the next.
So yes we did get beaten 5-0 and Pagham did deservedly win that game. But it’s been and gone. There wasn’t nine points up for grabs that day. They took the three and fair play to them. But since then we’ve done okay.
We’ve won a few cup games and we’re in a league position where we’d like to be sitting and so if our squad’s deep enough only time will tell. We’re still fighting on three or four fronts and we can’t ask for more really entering February.