By Matt Bishop
South Shields joint manager Lee Picton says all the pressure is on Hartlepool United tomorrow afternoon, as both teams battle for a place in the FA Cup first round proper.
Shields have enjoyed a stunning cup run so far, having already dumped National League North pair Darlington and York City out of this season’s competition, and the 2016-17 quadruple winners are hoping to make it a treble of shocks.
In front of an expectant home crowd, the Evo-Stik North side will have to bridge a gap of three divisions if they are to beat Pools, and claim an unforgettable hat-trick, but Picton knows the pressure is on Craig Harrison’s men.
The Shields joint manager told The Sunderland Echo: “We almost had a free hit against Darlington and York City in the last two rounds, and it’s the same again on Saturday.
“We’ve definitely got no pressure on us. They are three divisions higher than us, and you can’t get away from that.
“On paper, they should win the game comfortably, but we’re certainly not planning on that happening.
“I’m confident that, if the players can reach the levels they did in the previous two rounds, we have a real chance of causing an upset.”
A bumper crowd of nearly 3000 is expected to squeeze into Mariners Park tomorrow, and Picton is hoping his side can do their best to get the crowd going and make things difficult for Pools.
“Getting the crowd on our side is a big thing for us,” said the joint manager, “and might just throw them [Hartlepool] a little bit. I think they will come into the game feeling a little bit anxious and not sure of what to expect.
“If we can take them out of their comfort zone, that could gain us the upper hand psychologically and we’ll be able to take it from there.
“We’ll be doing everything that we can, and now we’ve prepared the players, it’s over to them to mentally get themselves to the place they need to be to perform at their optimum level on Saturday.
“To reach the first round would be a big achievement for us, but it’s one that is now within our grasp, and we fully intend to make it happen.”
Catch up with all the weekend’s FA Cup Fourth Round Qualifying action in Sunday’s @NonLeaguePaper.