ST Ives Town will go to Tonbridge Wells on Saturday for their big FA Vase fourth round proper game against the Kent League side with a fully-fit squad.
Three of the club’s key players - Lee Ellison, Will Fordham and Junior McDougald - were unavailable with injuries over recent weeks, but talking to The Hunts Post, joint manager Jez Hall said: “We’ve been keeping them back - we were doing well enough without them!”
It is more than a month since Stuart Cobb’s last-minute cross forced a Peacehaven & Telscombe defender to put the ball into his own goal in Sussex where the Saints secured their place in the last 32 of the competition.
If they beat Tonbridge at the Culverden Stadium on Saturday, the United Counties Premier Division club will be in the last 16 - just three steps away from a Wembley final.
“We’re not thinking about Wembley yet,” said Hall. “We have 150 fans travelling down and we just want to make it a great day for them.”
Having just celebrated their 500th game together, Hall and his cohort Warren Everdell are no strangers to this stage of the national competition. In fact, they have reach the fifth round - the last 16 - three times in the last four seasons. That’s some achievement. As the Tunbridge manager points out: “The Vase is the marquee tournament at our level and to be able to call ourselves one of the best 16 in the country would truly be a great reward.”
Tonbridge play in the Kent County League - at the same level as St Ives. They are currently fifth in their Premier Division and the manager is feeling frustrated at his side’s recent lack of form. “The points we have dropped against Deal Town, Homesdale and Greenwich have denied us second place,” reported his club’s website.
“We’ve discussed it as a group and importantly Brad Sandeman - the assistant manager - and I have learnt from those games as much as the players have.
“In addition, we have been desperately unlucky with injuries this year, which is a fact - not an excuse.
“All said and done, we are nine points better off than at this time last year - and of course, we’re still in the Vase - so we are all very positive.”
Hall and secretary Simon Clark travelled down to Tonbridge to see their third round replay against VCD Athletic. “We will not be underestimating them,” he said. “They worked hard that day and were well organised.”
However, with his ‘injured’ trio back in the squad - and with form striker Connor Washington up front - the Saints have a great chance of making the fifth round for the fifth time in six years.
“All I want is for us to be in the hat for the fifth round come Monday,” said Hall.
And if Sky Bet are to be believed, they will be: to win the competition outright, the bookmakers have St Ives at 11-1 and joint fourth favourites.
They are offering odds of 25-1 for Tonbridge.