Whitby Town 'firmly believe' they can knock Bristol Rovers out of FA Cup, says manager Nathan Haslam
A win over Chelmsford City in the fourth qualifying round sent Whitby into the first round for the first time in 20 years.
Little is expected of Haslam’s men against League One opposition but the seventh-tier side are adamant they are not simply making up the numbers.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Haslam said: “Whitby's only a small fishing town. The amount of calls and messages I've had, it hits home that this means a hell of a lot to those people. I'm sure the players will do them proud.
"We're not going in there as also-rans, albeit the odds are strongly stacked against us. We firmly believe there's a chance we can progress to the next round. Who knows? It's the FA Cup.”
An experienced manager in the non-league pyramid, Haslam has previously led unfancied sides into David v Goliath cup ties.
Having seen his players freeze in front of big crowds before, he is keen to avoid a repeat at the Memorial Ground.
He said: “I've been in the same position twice. Not necessarily in the first round proper, but where I've taken a team into the fourth qualifying round against a team four divisions higher than us on two occasions. For me personally as a manager, I learnt a lot from that.
“On both occasions, the lads froze a bit in front of a crowd. I'm using that experience this time round. With the players, we've got a young group.
“A lot of them have been released by professional clubs, they've got their heads back and they're ready to go.
“This particular group of players, to be honest with you, I've got no worries that they won't rise to the occasion.
“They've always played well in front of a crowd. They've always improved against a better team.
“I don't think they'll be a lot for me to do. I'll be there to remind them of the fact they need to express themselves, to not play to the occasion.”
In the Northern Premier League Premier Division, Whitby are one of the division’s most attractive sides to watch.
They place emphasis on retaining possession and showing attacking intent but may have to tweak their approach as they venture into unfamiliar territory.
Haslam explained: “As a tactical affair, it's something very, very different for me. On a weekly basis, you're coming up against teams of equal stature and ability.
“You kind of know the team, but we're coming up against a team that are obviously four divisions higher. We're a team who like to play on the front foot, we like to play possession-based football.
“There's every chance we're not going to get our own way to do that. We've got to put a lot of thought into how we go attack this game. I'm pretty sure if we go play our normal front-footed style of football, and show a lot of bravery, it could be tactical suicide.
“We're still working on things with the squad. We're looking at different shapes and personnel. It's certainly going to be a tough challenge for us, that's for sure.”
Regardless of how Whitby fare, the club have already reaped the rewards of their FA Cup run.
Prize money has been pocketed and experience has been gained but most importantly, hard work has been rewarded.
Semi-professional clubs are pressure cooker environments, capable of chewing up and spitting out those who crumble under pressure.
A trip to Bristol Rovers serves as a reminder of why such intense work is carried out by Haslam and his colleagues.
Haslam said: “The bread and butter of the league on a week-to-week basis is a grind for most non-league managers. It's probably not appreciated how hard the job is on the outside.
“These kinds of moments are rewards for all the hard work. Not just for myself, but for my management team and everyone at the football club.
“It's given me a great sense of pride. When we first got through to the first round proper on that Tuesday against Chelmsford City, it was quite an emotional night.”
Amid the furore is an awareness that FA Cup hangovers are hardly uncommon for non-league clubs.
But Haslam said: “One thing I can say is the experience can only be a positive for every single player, especially the younger guys.”