FA CUP: Career defining moment for Stamford AFC players against Hartlepool United
For most of the 19 Stamford players who walk out at Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park on Sunday, playing in the first round of the FA Cup First Round proper will be a new experience.
For many it will be a career defining moment, unless of course they beat the odds and win against the League Two side who play four divisions above the Daniels.
Just four of the Stamford squad have ever reached this stage of the competition before with Jon Challinor the most experienced man, reaching the Second Round while playing in the football league.
Impressive young goalkeeper Sam Donkin had never experienced FA Cup football before featuring for Stamford against Mansfield in the Third Qualifying Round.
Defender Delroy Gordon, who wore the captain’s armband in Monday night’s 3-2 loss to Basford United in the Evo-Stik NPL First Division South, has reached the First Round of the competition, with Nuneaton and Drury’s Corby side.
Elliot Sandy has also reached the Second Round with Brackley, but will have to undergo a late fitness test on his twisted ankle, which forced him to be substituted off in the first half of the Daniels’ 4-1 loss to Hednesford Town in the Buildbase FA Trophy on Saturday.
Defender Chris Salt, who has been a vital presence at the heart of the Stamford defence, is also expected to be fit after missing the Basford game with his ongoing back problem. Stamford manager Graham Drury said: “We are just wrapping him in cotton wool at the moment.”
Jordan Smith has also been recovering from a bad cold and been told to keep away from the Stamford camp so as not to bring down the whole team.
Drury said: “We are hoping to pick from a full squad but we can’t afford to have anyone playing at 80 per cent.”
Drury, who led Conference North side Corby Town to the first round five years ago, said he is not worried about the recent run of poor results.
He added: “It’s deja vu.”
“The last couple of games the players’ minds have been elsewhere. The FA Cup is the biggest game in their careers, they don’t want to get injured.
“It’s tough to manage but I am going to give them some leeway until Sunday, if it goes on after that there will be some big changes at the football club. But I believe in this group of players. My Corby side challenged for the league after the FA Cup run and I am hopeful it will be the same with Stamford.
“I just want to get it over so we can get on with the main event - the league.”