Non-League clubs will be wondering what’s in the water at Slough Town as they prepare for another FA Cup second round tie.
The National League South side are at it again in the famous old competition and this time want to go one better.
The Rebels were knocked out at this stage last season at home to League One side Rochdale, but now have a shot at redemption.
They’ve done it the hard way, playing seven matches to pocket £85,000 in prize money, with their latest cup victory coming after an extraordinary 8-7 penalty shoot-out against higher-league Sutton United.
Who they would be playing the second round was still not decided by the time George Wells tucked in the winning spot kick at gone 10.30pm on Tuesday with their Non-League counterparts Hartlepool set to host Gillingham the following evening.
Indeed, they had to wait even longer to see who would be visiting Arbour Park on Sunday when the visitors Tom Eaves produced a 96th minute equaliser to send the tie into extra time.
Unable to sleep for more than three hours after Slough’s dramatic win, joint-manager Neil Baker still embarked on a gruelling scouting mission to the north east.
The League One side eventually won 4-3 after extra time to book Sunday’s date.
“Hartlepool were really good on the night and deserved their lead,” Baker told The NLP while driving back south having stayed overnight. “As the game went on they were hanging on a little bit more. You’ve got to feel sorry for them because I don’t quite know where the referee found six minutes of injury time. I thought the referee was going to blow his whistle a minute beforehand.
“Once they equalised there was only going to be one winner because you could see Hartlepool were visibly gutted. They were there, they were in the next round. We would have had an all Non-League tie for a place in the third round.
“From our point of view it’s a brilliant tie to host a League One side. From where we are to where they are, it’s a massive gap. We have to realise that and set expectations accordingly.
“You’re a game of your life away from the game of your life in the third round. It’s one you relish as a Non-League manager, to pit your wits against a full-time League One side.”
Their cup run could have been over in the humble beginnings of the second and third round qualifying where there were taken to replays by both Step 5 Sholing and Step 4 Bristol Manor Farm after being held at home on both occasions.
They edged past league rivals Eastbourne Borough on the road in the fourth qualifying round before the magic could really begin.
They held Sutton at Gander Green Lane to a stalemate before forcing extra time in the replay thanks to James Dobson’s bullet free-kick with nine minutes left.
Level after extra time, the first ten penalties were all scored before Tom Bolarinwa had his saved by Jack Turner and Sam Togwell had the chance to win it for Slough, but missed although Dean Beckwith soon skied over and Wells finished it.
“Up until beating Eastbourne it hasn’t felt like we’ve had a cup run,” said Baker. “The two games against Sholing and Bristol were the harder games because the level of expectation is so much higher, we were expected to win them.
“Sholing were one of the best teams we’ve played this season. They were fantastic. They could have quite easily gone through in both games.
“It was a great penalty shootout. The winning penalty was probably the worst out of the lot!
“We only had one training session which was on the Thursday. We decided not to practice penalties, reason being we missed a few penalties last year and I think at the start of the season everyone was taking them to decide who was going to be our taker.
“Simon Dunn scored about 15 from 15 in training and then missed his first one against Torquay. You can’t replicate it.
“I felt for Sutton because they’re a good side and Paul [Doswell, Sutton manager] was brilliant, he was very complimentary to us throughout.”
Baker and sidekick Jon Underwood now have a week to prepare for Sunday’s tie and hope to call upon lessons from last year’s exit.
“When we played Rochdale we were coming in off the back of a few injuries to our strikers. We had been playing a different formation which was a bit alien to us. Because everyone had been doing well in those games we ended going with it in the Rochdale game which is not how we play.
“In hindsight we would have changed it back because one of the forwards had returned. We didn’t and maybe we’ve learnt that we’ll play our game this time. We won’t change for anyone. You have few opportunities in your career and you have to try and take them.
“I wouldn’t say there is anything special that we do. I think it has to come down to the players. I think we have a team who work hard for each other and that goes a long way in the FA Cup. Of course, you need luck too.”