Little Eastwood on a big stage

TO most non-football fans, the third round of the FA Cup probably doesn't sound that exciting.

Two rounds seemingly played, presumably lots more to go – hardly something to make all this fuss about surely?

The truth is, for any non-league football club to still be in the FA Cup this side of Christmas is always an achievement.

And for Eastwood Town, now the lowest-ranked team left, it's no different.

They've played no fewer than eight matches to get to this stage, that's precisely eight more than the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United who now make their grand entries into the competition.

They're only four wins from a Wembley semi-final, and five from the showpiece itself. Having not lost in 14 games it sounds easy doesn't it?

Add to that the fact they're playing another, albeit professional, non-league team and the thoughts of creating yet more history become even more prominent.

For Eastwood Town chairman Robert Yong, a man who has overseen a huge overhaul of the club since taking over in late 2007, it's been a rollercoaster few months.

"When we went to the play-off semi-final in May last year at Gateshead and were hammered 4-0, I sat down with Paul Cox and John Ramshaw and we decided we needed a clean slate," he said.

"We went to work and since then have signed 17 new players, many with experience of playing in the Football League.

"We were favourites to win the division at the start of the season and haven't lost in the league since September.

"And while that competition has to be the priority, we can't ignore the fact we're making headlines in one of the most famous cup competitions in the world."

While Yong is happy to deflect most of the numerous media questions regarding the football side of things onto his manager Paul Cox, his own analysis of Eastwood's chances on Saturday shows where he sees his club's standing in the non-league pyramid.

He said: "When you look at the two sides, there's not a great deal of difference in the quality of individual players.

"The fact is, we're in the market for the best players in non-league football, just as Kettering are. We have guys who have played at a higher level than Kettering are at now.

"If this match was being played on a neutral ground I think it would have to go down to the flip of a coin as to who would win, but the fact Kettering are at home gives them the slight edge, as does the fact their professional status will make them fitter and stronger, although we've got an extremely fit side too.

"I know their defender Guy Branston quite well as he comes to my club and we chat frequently, and I know what sort of players they want and the sort of financial structure they have in place, and there's not much difference between them and us.

"I don't think they're as good as Wrexham or Wycombe, and we knocked those two out, so we have to believe we can do it again."

If the game ends in a draw on Saturday then it's all back to Eastwood's place for a replay ten days later, and while the logistics of arranging such a big game at short notice may be daunting, Yong will gladly accept the challenge.

"I actually think that might be our best chance of getting through, if we can hold them to a draw in Kettering and then beat them at home, as we've done to Wrexham and Wycombe," he said.

"It will be hard work again to get everything organised but we did well with the Wycombe match so I'm not too worried."

As for the manager, Cox is well aware of what Kettering will have to throw at his side.

He said: "They are an organised and very strong outfit with lots of experience, particularly the spine of the side with strong centre-halves, tough tackling midfielders and good strikers.

"Add to that the likes of Darren Wrack on the wing and you know you're up against a tough side.

"In my opinion it will be the hardest game we've had so far in this cup run, as Kettering are another non-league side and were in the league above us last season so know more what to expect.

"Our players won't need much motivating for this as it's so huge. If they do, they're in the wrong business.".