By Matt Badcock
Brackley Town continue their defence of the FA Trophy with a home tie against Leyton Orient – and boss Kevin Wilkin knows it’s going to be their toughest test yet.
The National League North Saints were triumphant at Wembley last May when they beat Step 1 Bromley on penalties.
For the third year running they are at the quarter-final stage of the competition following last week’s 2-0 away win at Chesterfield.
Justin Edinburgh’s Football League-chasing O’s are up next and Wilkin hailed the desire of his squad to get Wembley in their sights again.
“Two years ago we were unlucky to lose to York, who were the eventual winners,” Wilkin said. “It’s the experiences you face and the majority of this side have been together and experienced it last season. When you’ve had a taste of it and all the trappings it brings, naturally people will talk about it and want a bit more of it. That’s great people have got the hunger and desire to go and have another bash at it.
“Some of the lads who didn’t experience it last year, you could tell after Chesterfield they are feeling that buzz that, ‘Hang on a minute, we are in the mix’. The draw on Monday was nice to look forward to and it gets you something to work towards. We love it don’t we, that’s why we’re here.
“It makes it interesting that it’s at ours. But, as I say, we’re going to have to be right at the very top of our game. For the younger boys who have come into the fold this season and the last few weeks are really going to have to step up to the plate.
“If I’m honest I don’t think we’re quite at the stage we were last year as a group but we’re making strides and the hope is that we do get to that level eventually.
“We lost a few big players from last season and we’ve got some younger boys who have come in and are making their way. Being involved in and around the play-offs and having a Trophy run are great experiences for them. When you’ve had that, that’s the fuel to drive you forward and keep that desire in your game.”
Wilkin isn’t hiding the fact that promotion from the National League North is their ultimate aim this season.
The Saints came close last year, losing to Harrogate Town in the play-off final, and have recently picked up the results to put them back in the top seven.
“We had a bit of a flat period before Christmas where we lost three on the bounce,” Wilkin said. “They were tough games for different reasons and it just didn’t quite happen for us. But we’ve picked up since Christmas and been on a reasonable run.
“So we’re back in the play-off mix, I think, but it’s so competitive. I’m not sure where you draw the line under the teams who can’t make it. It’s incredibly open and competitive which gives everyone a reason to keep going.”
With the FA Trophy comes midweek rearrangements and Wilkin hopes having been through it before they will cope as well as they did last time out.
“We’ve got some really difficult midweek away games,” Wilkin said. “We’ve got to go away to Chorley, Darlington and Hereford but, as we found out last season, that’s part of it if you’re trying to be successful in that competition.
“Hopefully the experience we’ve had over the last couple of years together as a group will stand us in good stead.
“Obviously Orient is an incredibly tough game. They’re going fantastically in the league and Justin’s doing a fantastic job there. They’re probably like ourselves where they want to be as successful in everything they can be.
“We’re under no illusion as to what it will take but it’s nice to have that opportunity.”