SHOLING boss Dave Diaper views today’s tour of Wembley as essential preparation for tomorrow’s big FA Vase final against West Auckland Town.
Unlike their County Durham opponents – beaten finalists two years ago – the Boatmen have never experienced the sheer awe and excitement of playing at north London’s imposing home of English football.
So Diaper is just relieved that his players will get a chance to familiarise themselves with the magnificent 90,000-seater stadium before stepping onto the hallowed turf for the biggest game of their lives.
West Auckland suffered a heartbreaking 2-0 defeat under the Arch in 2012, beaten 2-0 by Northern League rivals Dunston UTS.
Not only will they have revenge spurring them on against the Sydenhams Wessex champions tomorrow, but they hold the trump card of having played at Wembley before. “West Auckland are quite a well-backed club and when I went up to Wembley to meet them, they were decent guys,” said Diaper.
“I’m told they’re not a very well-liked club because they’ve got a bit of money, but that’s not their fault.
“One advantage they’ve got over us is that they’ve experienced a Vase final before.
“By all accounts they were completely overawed by the occasion last time, but they’ve still got seven of those players who will know the pitch and know what to expect.
“But we’re going up today to get us into the Wembley mood and try and relax the players and get them used to the surroundings.
“It’s important that everyone takes their photos today and not on the day of the match.
“Tomorrow we’ve got a job to do.
“We finished the season really well, winning our last five Wessex League games, and we know that, on our day, we can beat the best.
“It’s about controlling the nerves and making sure players express themselves out there.
“Fortunately for us, we’ve got some strong characters and the Wembley stage is made for the likes of Mike Carter, Byron Mason and Lee Wort.
“I remember losing 3-1 to Totton in Hampshire Senior Cup final at St Mary’s and Worty scored the first goal, flashing the ball into the net from 30 yards. On that sort of surface, that’s what he’s capable of.”
Given that more than 250 miles separate tomorrow’s finalists, it was not surprising that Diaper opted against hiking up-country to watch the opposition.
Both clubs had hectic ends to the season and the Sholing boss said: “West Auckland have a squad of 27 and they were fielding a different team each game, so I was never likely to see the side they’ll put out at Wembley.
“They’re the favourites tomorrow and probably deserve to be because of their previous experience.
“But it would be nice to snatch the Vase off the Northern League sides. They’ve had the trophy for the last five years (Whitley Bay 3, Dunston UTS, Spennymoor) and we want to bring it back down south.”
There will be 22 Sholing players travelling to Wembley, including TJ Cuthbertson and Alex Baldacchino who are cup-tied.
Goalkeeper Matt Brown remains a slight injury doubt with a groin strain but, if his No1 is passed fit, Diaper will probably resist the temptation to name a sub ’keeper on the bench “I’d be reluctant to do that because we’ve got so many game-changers,” he said. “We’ve got pace in abundance and strength on the bench and our lads can all play in numerous positions, which is good.”
Asked if he will find it tough leaving players out, Diaper said: “I’ve never had a problem picking the team. I’m always honest with the players and can only go with what I feel is right on the day.” Tickets cost £15 adults and £5 under-16s from ticketing.thefa.com.
SHOLING AT WEMBLEY: 16-page souvenir pull-out in today's Daily Echo.