Wimbledon v Guiseley: Ambitious Lions keen to produce further sweet FA Cup memories

TO say that Guiseley’s preparations for this afternoon’s FA Cup date at Plough Lane have not been straightforward is the understatement of the decade, let alone year.

For a variety of reasons, the Lions had a colossal 15 players unavailable for last weekend’s 5-1 National League North defeat at Darlington, with six players added to their squad including four from the club’s academy.

The absences did not stop there with joint first-team bosses Marcus Bignot and Russ O’Neill also not in attendance as they were self-isolating, with assistant Paul Clayton taking charge of the side at Blackwell Meadows.

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Ahead of Thursday night’s training session to prepare for today’s game, Bignot – who has now completed his own period in isolation – admitted he had no idea as to how many players would be available again this weekend.

With more than a hint of understatement, Bignot told The Yorkshire Post: “We had 15 players out last weekend through isolation, suspension or injury and it is not ideal in terms of preparation.

“We will have one training session where we have been all together. But we will prepare the boys in the best way we can.”

Bignot and O’Neill do, at least, have some positive memories of the world’s most enduring domestic Cup competition to harken back to with fondness in the relatively recent past.

They arrived three years ago in the first round when their Guiseley side performed a splendid giant-killing act to beat League Two outfit Cambridge United 4-3 in one of the most dramatic and memorable games ever seen at their Nethermoor home.

Marcus Bignot, joint-manager of Guiseley Picture: George Wood/Getty Images

Given the fact that today’s tie will be away from home – and factoring in the build-up – Bignot is unequivocal in his view that a victory would comfortably surpass those feats.

“This one would top anything we have done previously,” he observed.

“If we get through, it would be one of the biggest scalps in this round as we are facing top-tier opposition (at this round) in League One away from home and have not got home advantage.

“It will also be a new experience and our first overnight stay which is something new for the boys. That has its challenges with the boys sleeping in different bedrooms and overnight travel and we are doing everything we can in terms of preparing them right.

Guiseley joint manager Russ O'Neill

“But it will be a great weekend and experience not just for our players, but supporters as well.”

A club whose own fabled journey has captured the imagination of sports lovers far beyond the boundaries of the London Borough of Merton where they reside, Wimbledon represent a beacon of hope to all aspiring non-league clubs.

Cup winners in 1988, the Dons were also famously a Southern League outfit back in January 1975 when they earned a Dickie-Guy-inspired heroic draw against reigning top-flight champions Leeds United in a fourth-round tie at Elland Road before narrowly losing the replay in front of 45,000 fans at Selhurst Park.

Bignot commented: “It is quite ironic we have Wimbledon as for every non-league club, that is the story that every supporter, board and group of players can dream of. A non-league club who have gone to the top tier and won the most famous cup in the history of football.

“At my age, I grew up with the fairytale Wimbledon story and witnessed their FA Cup win against Liverpool.

“They have had their difficulties since, but are now a well-established football league club again.

“It is a fairytale story and the hopes and dreams of every non-league club is to be the next Wimbledon.”