FOUR sides from the STL Northern League will be gunning for glory in the second qualifying round of the FA Cup this afternoon – and all face formidable challenges.
Minnows Hebburn Town have home advantage over Runcorn Linnets, but even so start as underdogs.
Joint manager Paul Bennett said: “I watched them play Squires Gate and they are a very, very quick side.
“We will need to be at the races and for our big players to be up to it but we have nothing to lose.”
His squad meets at 11 o’clock in a hotel and over breakfast the players will be briefed not only on Bennett’s views but also those of Cardiff City scout Ian Nicholson, who took in Runcorn’s midweek match.
Bennett and fellow manager Andrew Wood were last night still hopeful of Stuart Nicholson obtaining international clearance after playing in Australia. One newcomer today is goalkeeper Dan Regan, signed from Washington, while Jamie McClen, John Toomey, Paul Hutchinson and Tony Stephenson return to a full-strength squad.
It is business as usual for Ashington as they prepare for a stiff challenge at home to Vauxhall Motors.
Boss Gary Middleton awaits news on the fitness of captain Darren Lough, Matty Grieve and Andy Dugdale.
He said: “I have received two reports on them and if we play to our ability we have a chance.
“I know they are three steps ahead of us in the pyramid system, but it is a great opportunity and everybody is excited – especially following our results in previous rounds.”
Spennymoor Town are on their travels to Ashton United from the Evo-Stik League Premier Division. They too have run the rule over their opponents and assistant boss Perry Briggs believes his side can get a result if they play to their potential.
He said: “We know what to expect, but we are taking 150 supporters who will get behind the team and could make a difference.”
Moors include James Cronseberry, who was with Glen Hoddle’s academy, in their squad – but Sonny Andrews and Gavin Barton are cup-tied.
Bedlington Terriers are also away but they only have to travel to Croft Park for their tie, possibly the most difficult of the four, with Blue Square Bet North opponents Blyth Spartans.
STL Northern League First Division leaders Sunderland RCA will be wary visiting Penrith who have moved up to eighth from bottom after being at the basement only a few weeks ago.
Even so, it will be a major surprise if the Wearsiders do not stretch their impressive 10-match unbeaten sequence.
Dunston UTS, in second place, are also undefeated before their top- four clash at West Auckland Town.
UTS manager Billy Irwin anticipated a tough game, saying: “West Auckland are a really good team but we have made a promising start which we aim to carry on to keep the pressure on Sunderland RCA.”
Whitley Bay are odds-on favourites to complete a quick double over Stokesley SC after hammering the bottom side last week.
The gulf between the two teams could hardly be wider.
The Seahorses, unbeaten with six wins and a draw, are third having conceded just seven goals whereas Stokesley have leaked 63 times in just 11 outings.
In Division Two, newly-installed leaders Team Northumbria are at second-top Alnwick Town in the match of the day.
Team boss Paul Johnson has Mark Fenwick, Liam Clough, Christian Graham, Lee Scott, John Sherlock and captain Gavin Donaghue returning to a full-strength squad.
After being bottom until recently, North Shields have shot up the table with three wins and two draws from their last five games.
Manager Anthony Woodhouse has brought in Dean Holmes (Heaton Stannington), Paul Dunn and James Harmison from Ashington.
Harmison’s father Jimmy played for the Robins when they defeated Halifax Town in the FA Cup in 1982.
He watched his son recently made his debut for the Robins.
This afternoon, all three newcomers are in the squad for the visit of third-placed Darlington RA.