Sunderland RCA aim to create history tomorrow by reaching the last 16 of the prestigious FA Carlsberg Vase for the first time.
Lincolnshire side Sleaford Town descend on Meadow Park and manager Martin Swales is in no doubt as to the importance of the game (3pm kick-off).
He said: “It’s massive, huge, crucial – describe it as you want, but tomorrow is an important date in the history of this club.
“In fact, no Sunderland-based side has reached the last eight since the Vase was instigated more than 40 years ago, so this is our big chance.”
Swales has not been able to watch his opponents, but, with a near full-strength side at his disposal, is confident the Wearsiders can go through.
His only definite absentee is suspended vice-captain Reece Noble, but James Armstrong, Luke Richardson and Andrew Brown definitely come in, as will player-coach Colin Larkin if the former Hartlepool United man passes a fitness test on his injured groin.
RCA will hope for a big support, with Sunderland’s early kick-off against Spurs perhaps encouraging more fans to take in the Meadow Park tie after the televised game is over.
Dunston UTS, who lifted the Vase at Wembley in 2012, set off today for their tie in Birmingham with Coleshill Town.
“They play on a 3G pitch, but it doesn’t worry me,” said manager Billy Irwin.
“We won the last round against Seaham Red Star on Consett’s all-weather pitch and we’ve been training on a 3G surface for the last six weeks.”
With Steve Bowey (Newcastle Benfield) and Mattie Fisher (Washington) ineligible, having played for their previous clubs in earlier rounds, Irwin is pleased that Adam Wilkinson has completed a ban.
At least two Ebac Northern League clubs will be in the last 16. South Shields or Morpeth Town will play North Shields in the fourth round on a date yet to be decided and tomorrow Newton Aycliffe have home advantage over Marske United.
Tonight, South Shields will make a seventh attempt to play their third round tie against Morpeth Town, snow permitting.
Following six postponements at Mariners Park, the tie has been switched to Consett’s all-weather pitch – although Morpeth boss Nick Gray is not happy at the arrangement.
“The FA have decreed that there will not be a replay and that there must be a result tonight,” said Gray.
“Extra time and a penalty shoot-tie will take place if necessary, but I think as the ‘away’ team we should have had the opportunity of a crack at the tie on home soil, if the result is a draw.”
Shields manager Jon King is looking forward to a return to competitive action for his side following a 3-1 friendly win over West Allotment Celtic last Saturday.
He said: “The lads are raring to go.
“They have trained really well over recent weeks, and they look sharp heading into this game.
“We haven’t had a competitive game since December 19, but we got a good workout against West Allotment Celtic, which did us the world of good. We’re just looking forward to playing now.”
Shields are on a 20-match winning run, and are top of Northern League Division Two. They have already beaten three Division One sides in the competition so far, but tonight is set to be their toughest test.
Morpeth were top of Division One until their enforced winter break took hold, and now sit second, two points behind leaders Shildon but with three games in hand.
King – a former manager of Morpeth – is expecting a close match. He added: “Morpeth have been top of their league for most of the season, and have some very good players.
“We’ve watched them several times, though, and have worked on things in training to prepare ourselves for this.
“We will need to be on top of our game to win, but we’re quietly confident.
“I’m sure Morpeth will be saying the same thing, so it should be a great game. It will be the toughest match of the season so far for both sides.”
Shields will be without the ineligible Danny Carson and Ibby Hassan, and injured Lewis Galpin, but will have Daryll Hall available after he shook off a foot injury.
The game at the Belle View Stadium kicks off at 7.45pm.