Under the leadership of long-time manager Andy Leese, Chesham United produced one of the great underdog stories of the Emirates FA Cup last season, as the Southern Premier League side beat Bristol Rovers on their own patch.
One year on, they’re looking to revive their giant-killing act in the First Round Proper as they head to League One heavyweights Peterborough United.
Ladbrokes News caught up with the Chesham gaffer to discuss crowds, cup form and this weekend’s trip to Cambridgeshire.
There’s little doubt last season’s First Round victory over Bristol Rovers was among the club’s greatest days, and one Leese recounts in vivid detail.
“It was a momentous day for the club”, he told us. “The reception Barry Hayles got – as an ex-Bristol Rovers and current Chesham player was amazing. The whole crowd of over 5,000 rose to applaud him. That really stuck with me.”
“In the game itself, we missed a penalty in the first-half – and you think ‘that’s your chance’. Then we got the goal”, he continued.
“The thing I remember most vividly though is the six minutes of injury time. I was counting it down with the fourth official!”
But while there may be some nerves on the dugout this weekend, there have been none on the pitch for Chesham in recent weeks, with eight wins and one draw in their last nine games.
“We’ve been very resilient in games, and our defensive backbone has been excellent”, Leese explained. “despite suffering a couple of injuries during this current run, we’ve continued to win – and I’m delighted we go to Peterborough in such good form.”
That stellar run has included three Emirates FA Cup Qualifying Round victories, over Sevenoaks Town, Staines Town and Potters Bar Town respectively – and with two clean sheets in those successes, Leese is keen to emphasise his side’s defensive qualities.
“The focus from pre-season onwards has been on making our defence rock solid, after conceding 70 league goals last season”, the former Potters Bar gaffer explained.
“We brought in two experienced pros in Darren Purse and Matt Mitchell-King, and they’ve been massive in building our defensive form. Our keeper Ashlee Jones has also been in brilliant form. That gives us a great platform to build on every week.”
And while Peterborough offer a tough test of Chesham’s abilities across the field, the Southern Premier League side aren’t overawed by the Posh surroundings they head into.
Leese told us: “Psychologically, we go there with no pressure on us and no fear. We’re through the rounds we’d targeted as ‘must-win’. We’ve also got leadership in the squad, and players who generally make the right decisions.”
“We’ve got to hope Peterborough are having a bit of an off day, and that we can start strongly and affect their gameplan. It’s a very tough challenge with the calibre of players [manager] Grant McCann has, but we go into every game believing we can win.”
And the popular boss believes his side will give their illustrious visitors a tough game, claiming: “We have an opportunity and we’re not going to just make up the numbers or sit back and defend very deep and try to hang on. We’ve got a gameplan.”
Having already faced Bristol Rovers and 2013 League Cup finalists Bradford City last season, his players are ready for the pressure-cooker environment of playing in front of a big crowd once again.
“The lads are all excited about the occasion, but they certainly won’t be overawed by it. A lot of them were involved in our Emirates FA Cup run last season. The ex-pros we’ve signed over the summer have also played at the highest level, and the young lads don’t tend to feel the nerves!”, the Generals gaffer told us.
“Playing in front of thousands of fans is what you work for and dream of. And we’re going to dare to dream this weekend, and see where that belief takes us!”
Meanwhile, it’s 33/1 for the ABAX Stadium to see a repeat of the 1-0 triumph Chesham chalked up at Bristol Rovers last season.
Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing