IT’S just over a decade since the Rocks reached the final qualifying round of the FA Cup – and two decades since they got through that to reach the first round proper.
But on Saturday, they will be going all out to take this season’s Cup dream a big step further when they host Oxford City in the third qualifying round.
If they can beat their high-flying National League South visitors, they will be just one more win away from a potential tie with a League One or League Two club.
With no Premier League or Championship games being played on Saturday, and Pompey, Havant and Gosport all away from home, the Rocks are hoping their tie’s billing as one of the biggest matches in the region will draw a big crowd to Nyewood Lane.
Manager Jamie Howell admits it will be a tough test against a team sitting in second place one division above where the Rocks play.
But he says if his players can produce the sort of performance that knocked out a National League North side in the last round, they have a chance.
It’s the sort of game I relish. Sometimes you want a bit of pressure in football and can thrive on it. We have been playing well but it’s probably fair to say we’re not really expected to win this.Jamie Howell
His build-up has been hit by a two-match suspension to Craig Robson which will see him sit out the tie and any replay.
But the return to fitness of Doug Tuck and the way the likes of Pompey youngsters Chad Field and Snorre Nilsen have slotted into the team gives Howell hope they are in good shape to give City a good run for their money.
Talking of money, the winners of matches in this third qualifying round receive £7,500 – the same amount the Rocks have alreay earned through victories in the first and second stages.
Progress to the fourth qualifying round brings the prospect of a £12,500 prize for a victory and, more importantly, the chance to play for a place in the hat with the League One and League Two clubs.
Howell said: “We’re trying to treat it as a normal game – it can add unnecessary pressure if you don’t – but we are all aware of how big a match it is and how important it is to the club.
“It’s the sort of game I relish. Sometimes you want a bit of pressure in football and can thrive on it. We have been playing well but it’s probably fair to say we’re not really expected to win this.
“Oxford are a good team, very offensive-minded, and it should be a good game for what we hope will be a big crowd.
“I went to watch Worthing beat St Neots on penalties on Tuesday night to get through to the same round we’re in, and the atmosphere was tremendous. The very fact it’s the FA Cup can lift a crowd and an atmosphere.
“Our players want to win every game they play and I don’t think the fact this is an FA Cup tie makes a blind bit of difference to how they’ll approach it – they know it’s a big game.
“I said before the Lowestoft game we needed to be at our best and hope they had a bit of an off-day and the same is true this time.”
Howell has spoken to Havant manager Lee Bradbury, whose team are the only ones to have beaten Oxford in the league so far.
“He was very complinentary about them and had given me some useful information,” Howell said.
Robson’s ban, which comes with a £150 fine, comes from the FA as a result of comments made to the referee following his recent sending-off against Tonbridge Angels.
He’ll also miss Tuesday’s home league game against Farnborough or a replay at Oxford if one is needed.
His absence will see Sami El-Abd and Field continue together in central defence and a possible return to the starting line-up for midfielder Doug Tuck, fit after a hamstring problem.
James Crane may be over a knee problem in time to compete with Daryl Wollers for the left-back spot, but forward Stuart Green needs a scan on a back problem before he can play again.
Get the first report from the Cup game at bognor.co.uk
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