FA CUP: DO YOUR MAGIC

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FUNNY thing the FA Cup …. you’re up against a team a league higher, who ended Leyton Orient’s unbeaten start to the season and drew away with the second top team Wolverhampton. Coventry City are on a fine run.

On the other side of the coin, Wimbledon have just ended a win-less run of six games after a search party had been sent out scouring for missing confidence, and you know what? Some actually think the Dons are in with a chance against the Sky Blues. Let’s hope the players do.

Why is that so? Call it the magic of the FA Cup, perhaps, but the Dons will need a large dollop of luck, spunk and good ‘ol up and at ’em aggression to get the result and an anticipated £100,000 windfall from TV and FA Cup money and a share of the gate.

There is also the little matter of stage fright to overcome and it will be a measure of Wimbledon’s capacity to block out the tell-all TV cameras, forget the occasion and just seize the opportunity (and chances).

It’s hoped that Wimbledon have learnt from the experience of last season’s much-hyped televised Cup tie at Milton Keynes and how only a fluke back-heeled goal in stoppage time prevented them from taking their reviled rivals back to Kingsmeadow for a replay.

The Dons were excruciatingly naive as a Conference South outfit against League 2 leaders Wycombe Wanderers in their initial dabble in television exposure in 2008 and were thumped 4-1 at Kingsmeadow. Wimbledon also had their moments in the Cup at Millwall the following season again before the cameras, but after pulling back to 2-1 the Lions finished them off 4-1 in the final minutes.

Wet behind the ears back then, sure, but that excuse won’t wash any more. Wimbledon are a League 2 side; Coventry City are League 1. The FA Cup is supposed to dissolve the clear-headed disparities. This is a one-off, one team goes through, emotion overrules the head, rationalism is suspended for 90 or so minutes.

Old Wimbledon’s reputation was forged in FA Cup heroics. Think Burnley, Leeds United, Everton, Luton Town, Liverpool; the Dons were feared and respected as a Cup side.

AFC Wimbledon are looking for their breakthrough match and Coventry City would be a good a team as any. The Sky Blues fans still shudder at the thought of Sutton United’s Cup ambush at Gander Green Lane in 1989.

But don’t expect a swaggering Coventry City to come through the gates at Jack Goodchild Way on Friday night. Manager Steven Pressley has a team that can hold its own against any L1 side, let alone some outfit bobbing along mid-table in L2.

Coventry have two on-fire strikers Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson and a rock steady centre-back combination of Andy Webster and Jordan Clarke with only eight goals conceded away this season.

And Pressley has challenged his players: “It is up to us to begin making our own history. The club shouldn’t always be recognised for the team of 1987 but much more than that.”

“I think the players are determined to do that and I’m sure the fans would love new heroes. The Cup win was a long time ago and it has been a long wait for them to taste any success.

“It’ll be terrific if we could put some form of cup run together. I don’t remember watching the ’87 final but I have had to hear about it enough, I feel like I played in it!”

No fear, the Coventry lads will be up for this one. Can the Dons match them?

This will have to be some special performance by the Dons to stay in the draw for the next round and it will be a tactical and psychological test for Neal Ardley.

Midfielder Peter Sweeney knows what it’s like to play in an FA Cup final. He did so for Millwall against Manchester United in 2004 and he says the Dons know what they have to do.

“It will be tough because Coventry are flying. We will just have to match them. The manager has already told us some key points. The main one is that they work really hard and that is what all good teams do,” Sweeney said.

“If we match them in terms of work-rate then we have great quality in the team. We will be going out there to win the game. Mentally the Rochdale result did a lot for us after the spell we had without winning. Everyone is looking forward to the game on Friday night.”

Ardley says the priority is staying in League 2. No doubt, can’t argue with that, but these are rare opportunities Wimbledon as an evolving club cannot flippantly toss aside as just a distraction to the main goal.

Much is to be gained from a Cup run, Erik Samuelson and his spreadsheet know just how much easier things would be, financially, if the Dons could sustain a run, and who knows what may turn up?

But it all starts on Friday night against the red-hot favourites Coventry City and the Dons’ fans will be there at Kingsmeadow and watching on TV around the world (it’s on ESPN down here live in Oz early Saturday morning), hoping that just maybe the Dons might come of age and claim a Cup scalp of a former winner.

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Fanciful, perhaps, stone bonkers, well, not quite. This is the time of the season when strange things can and do happen. Plenty will have to go Wimbledon’s way and the signs aren’t great, but at the least we’re expecting the Dons to give this a real red-hot go.

As champion South African golfer Gary Player once put it: ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get.” 

Read more on the game in the WDSA match thread.

Follow OnyaDon on Twitter during and after the game.