Two rounds ago, Stourbridge were within seconds of being eliminated from this year’s Emirates FA Cup. Drawing 1-1 at Whitehawk, referee Robert Whitton blew for full-time, just as Javier Favarel struck an inch-perfect volley into the top corner for the home side.
Rightly, the goal was disallowed, and Stourbridge breezed through the Replay to win 3-0 at the War Memorial Athletic Ground. That meant they’d face League One outfit Northampton Town in the Second Round.
And while many expected the Glassboys to finally exit the competition, they went about their business with cool-heads and the kind of passion many Premier League sides would struggle to match.
The Cobblers simply didn’t turn up, and that’s why Gary Hackett’s Stourbridge side are where they are today: 90 minutes away from yet another sensational upset.
Up next for the West Midlands outfit is a trip to League Two side Wycombe Wanderers this weekend.
A fairytale as it may be for fans of the club, it’s very real for the man pulling the strings. And while there’s a real sense of excitement in his tone – we fast learned through speaking exclusively to Hackett that his side mean business…
Ladbrokes News: Where does this game rank in the club’s history, and your own personal career highlights?
Gary Hackett: We could potentially create a big upset and get to the Fourth Round, so I’ve got to say it probably is the biggest game of the club’s history.
As for myself, I was fortunate enough to play professional football. But for the whole of the town, it’s such a fantastic achievement and we’re going to look forward to it now. We’re going to relish it.
LN: It’s great to see so many people getting behind the team, with 2,000 fans expected to travel to Wycombe. Are you expecting this incredible run to bring more supporters to the War Memorial week-in, week-out?
GH: There’ll be well over 2,000 on the day!
One thing it has definitely done is increase our support in the league, creating so much interest in the town of Stourbridge. You get your local MP supporting you, the council, and everybody.
The media attention has been great, the people we’ve had down here – Sky Sports, BBC, ITV, and Ladbrokes News! – you know, they’ve all been great.
LN: How are your players feeling this week? Is there anyone in particular in the squad that you’re looking to for help in keeping the team grounded?
GH: To be fair, we’ve got a really level-headed bunch. We had a big league game on Monday away at Barwell and came through that unscathed with another three points on the board which was very pleasing.
And at training last night, although it was a bit of a media circus, it’s great for the players and the whole place is buzzing.
We’re going down on Friday afternoon, stopping overnight and we’ll do it properly.
We’ll give ourselves the best opportunity to try and create an upset.
LN: Wycombe head into this one as favourites with the bookies. But they’ve only reached the Fourth Round of this competition once in their history. Those two things coupled together will surely add to the pressure on the home side’s shoulders. How will that help you?
GH: The thing is, you could twist that round the other way.
Wycombe have probably had the best draw of the round. A home tie against the lowest ranked side in the competition is something they’ll view positively.
I’ve got a lot of respect for Wycombe. They’re in the middle of a great run at the moment, they’ve got a very up-and-coming manager in Gareth Ainsworth who conducts himself in the right manner.
We know it’s going to have to be one heck of a performance, but that’s what we’re looking forward to.
LN: Such are the limited amount of resources at your disposal, it must be hard to prepare for Saturday’s game. Have you been able to send anyone down to watch Wycombe in recent weeks?
GH: We were quite fortunate over the Christmas period that they played at Cheltenham, which is only really 45 minutes away from us. So we went to watch them play and we got well looked after there while we had a good look at Wycombe.
But to be fair to them, they’ve been very professional too. They’ve had us watched, and it really is all there to play for.
As I said, they’re in a rich vein of form, and we’re unbeaten in 13. And we know we’ve probably got to produce the shock of the weekend to get our name into that Fourth Round draw.
LN: What would you say constitutes to a good day on Saturday for you and the club? And what will your final message be to the boys before they step out of the tunnel?
GH: The message to the team is ‘go and give your absolute best’.
If ultimately we get beat by a better team, then so be it – that’s the way football is.
But I don’t think we’ll freeze, I think we’re all looking forward to it, and we’ve got absolutely nothing to lose.
LN: Finally, can we push you for a team that you’ve got your eye on for the Fourth Round?!
GH: [laughs] Everybody says that. It’s probably a better question to ask if we get there! Let’s get ourselves in the Fourth Round and I’d love to be faced with the question then.
Gary Hackett’s Stourbridge are 11/1 outsiders to progress to the next stage, and you can click here for a full list of odds and specials for the game.
As the official bookmaker of the FA, Ladbrokes is offering a fantastic concession to customers who Back the Underdog! Bet on a lower league team to win and if they draw, get a free bet on them to win the Replay* See full terms and conditions at www.ladbrokes.com/tc/underdog.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing