Basford United U18 finally get their date with destiny as they host West Bromwich Albion in their highly anticipated FA Youth Cup third round tie on Wednesday night (19:00).
United – the lowest ranked side and one of only three non-league teams remaining in the competition – were originally scheduled to welcome Premier League Albion to Nottingham back in January but was prevented by a last-minute suspension by the FA as the UK prepared for a third national lockdown.
However, after a near eight-week delay, the tie has finally been given the green light, albeit behind-closed-doors, and manager Josh Law says his side are looking forward to their huge challenge ahead, with Cardiff City awaiting the victors.
“We’re extremely excited for the occasion but we know it’s going to be a huge challenge in front of us – there is no hiding that,” he said.
“We’ve watched West Brom’s last four or five games, including games against Crystal Palace, Tottenham and Arsenal, and they’re a top side – full of pace, power and technical ability.
“Our approach will never change, however. We will stick to our principles and styles when in possession and look to stay resilient, strong and well organised defensively without the ball – we have been excellent all year in those regards.
“We will look at our strengths and it will take a top performance man-to-man to beat a very good West Brom side.”
The Midland Junior Premier League side go into the game having already played six times in a campaign that started way back in September.
Preliminary round victories against Alfreton Town, Mickleover, Lutterworth Athletic and Lincoln United, before impressive wins over Football League sides Port Vale and Grimsby Town set up a tie with Peter Gilbert’s side, who currently sit 8th in the Premier League U18 South table.
And as they mix it up with the elite of Chelsea, West Ham United, Spurs and Arsenal – whom they beat 3-0 last month – on a weekly basis, Law is under no illusions about the task at hand.
“We have received footage of their games this season and they are everything you would expect from a Premier League academy,” he said with a wry smile. “They are full of fantastic athletes and fantastic footballers.
“They press relentlessly and look to go hurt you straight away in their transition phases and they are areas we have to be very mindful of.
“However, this is the third round where dreams come true and the best teams at youth level come out and play. It’s a fantastic challenge that we’re all looking forward to and to see what it’s all about.”
West Brom reached the Youth Cup semi-finals only two years ago where they were knocked out by eventual finalists Manchester City and have only played two games to reach this stage.
Their distinguished academy set-up has yielded a number of players who have made it to Albion’s first team, currently managed by former England manager Sam Allardyce, and beyond and has quite the reputation.
Saido Berahino, Nathan Ferguson and Rakeem Harper are just a few to emerge from the Baggies’ talent pool in recent years, as too has Louie Barry, who agreed a three-year deal with Barcelona in 2019 after declining Paris Saint-Germain, despite having a medical in the French capital.
But whilst the non-leaguers remain in lockdown, and with Steve Chettle’s first team season now fully cancelled, the FA have confirmed that the tie will go ahead with elite status, despite non-elite United only returning to training two weeks ago with special dispensation.
“We are grateful to the FA that we can train and play a few friendlies before Wednesday, as we have been desperate to do so as much as we can as it’s been such a huge part of our run to get to this stage.
“It’s been very different, and we have worked the boys very hard in the last few weeks, just to try and get the players to a match-ready condition. We’ve had to be cautious, bearing in mind they haven’t been able to train for the past two months.
“Everyone at the club, especially these young players, have been chomping at the bit to get back as they prepare themselves for the biggest game of their short careers to date.
“It’s been a fantastic journey, in which everyone at the club has made history and we’ve been given a fantastic reward for our endeavours with a game against Premier League opposition.
“With the current situation across non-league football, and the disappointment for the first team with their leagues being stopped it’s been a huge positive having this run in the Youth Cup.
“It’s kept football being played in some capacity at the club and we will take confidence from that.
“We’ve tested ourselves against professional academies twice and come through them with very good performances and well-deserved wins.
“This game against West Brom, however, is something entirely new and we’re facing a team who are as good as anything I’ve seen at under 18 level in this country.
“My experiences as an underdog throughout the years, though, yields belief. If you stick together, stick to our plan and remain hopeful, then something special might just happen.”
Due to the restrictions, Basford have confirmed they will be offering a live stream of the match via Greater Manchester-based Film My Match for a small fee, which can be purchased and viewed on the company website in hope it attracts support and interest from the football community.
In addition, free on-the-night audio commentary through broadcast channel, Mixlr, and full information on the game will also be available and can be found on their website and social media outlets.
United will be without captain Mackenzie Rooney, who made his first team debut against Nottingham Forest last season, after he fractured his ankle in training and goalkeeper Gianni Musson remains absent as he recovers from an ongoing shoulder issue.
*Article provided by Marc Williams (Basford United Correspondent).
*Main image @BasfordUtd the superb under 18’s team has enjoyed a record run in the FA Youth Cup.