By Alec McQuarrie
Needham Market require a miracle to get past Burton Albion in the FA Cup but manager Kevin Horlock believes his players can pull off an upset of epic proportions.
The club are one of three Pitching In Southern Central side in the first round proper, having defied a two-division gap to knock out Maidstone 1-0 in the last round.
An early goal from Luke Ingram was enough to send the Marketmen to the opening round for the first time in the club’s history to face League One Burton at the Pirelli Stadium.
And former Manchester City and Swindon midfielder Horlock knows that even though the odds are stacked against his side, there’s no reason they can’t get a result.
“Like against Maidstone, we’ll have to be at our best across the board, we’ll have to have a little bit of luck no doubt, and we probably need Burton to have an off day,” said Horlock.
“But you just never know in football. That’s the magic of the FA Cup. It’s been done before and no doubt it’ll be done again. Hopefully that’s when we play them.
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“I believe in them. I believe in what I’ve got. They’re good players. I’ll tell them to just be free, go and play. Don’t play in fear. Don’t worry about mistakes.
“Go and play with a bit of freedom and if you can get young, talented players to do that, the results can be amazing.
“The lads will obviously be a bit nervous, but that’s okay. I think that gives you that bit of an edge. No one gives us a chance anyway, so it’s a win-win.”
The shock win over Maidstone offered the club a financial boost, but more importantly for Horlock, created indelible memories for a tight-knit group of players, fans and staff.
He added: “It was emotional. The lads created history. We did it last year reaching the quarter finals of the FA Trophy. It was special.
“These moments are special, aren’t they? They don’t come along too often in your career. It was an unbelievable moment really and it makes you hungry for more.
“I knew that we had a really good chance, even though we had a couple of injuries the week before – our captain and our most experienced midfielder.
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“So that was obviously going to make it more difficult but the lads were brilliant to be fair.”
Horlock knows exactly what a long run in the oldest cup competition in the world feels like, having drawn Premier League Southampton in the fifth round when he was playing for Division Two Swindon in 1996.
A tie with eventual winners Manchester United was on the line and a plucky Swindon were just minutes away from the quarter-finals.
“I actually scored with a right foot shot which is rarer than anything, trust me,” recalled Horlock.
“We were 1-0 up with about five minutes to go and Gordon Watson came on and scored for them really late on and we lost fairly comfortably away from home.
“That’s the furthest I’ve got and probably my fondest memory, even though we just didn’t see it over the line.”
Ladbrokes, with the support of its owner Entain, has launched a multi-million-pound investment programme, Pitching In, designed to support and promote grassroots sports. For more details see: https://entaingroup.com/sustainability/pitching-in/