Ah, the romance of the cup, the part timers versus the professionals, a dodgy pitch with a slope, howling gales and torrential rain, a tiny ground with a noisy sell out crowd baying for blood and the television cameras perched on an exposed, rickety, hastily erected piece of scaffolding to record the potential giant killing act. It is always scripted as David v Goliath, like never before. The same lines are trotted out year after year, it’s the magic of the FA Cup after all, sorry the Emirates FA Cup.
But not this time. Oh no. The stats and current form suggest that a win for Maidenhead United, also known as “The Magpies” or “The Stripes”, would be something of a minor miracle. Their chances would appear to be less than slim. But it is the FA Cup, stranger things have happened, or have they?
The Portsmouth boss, the experienced, cool, calm and composed Kenny Jackett has been there and seen it all before and has warned his high flying charges about the supposed perils that await at Maidenhead’s tight town centre ground on York Road, sat alongside the Great Western Railway embankment. He has urged caution but he must be secretly licking his lips in anticipation. His team are on a roll and in contrast, their opponents are on a seemingly uncontrollable downward spiral. But the FA Cup is a one-off, they say, the form book goes out of the proverbial window. But does it ?
With the international break coming up Jackett can afford to play a strong side and at the same time give his boys a chance to shine in front of the camera lights. The only danger for them will be complacency. As things stand, Pompey sit proudly atop League One – played 17, won 11, drawn 5 and lost just the once. They are one of only five teams across the leagues to remain unbeaten on their travels and have won 5 of their last 6 matches on the road.
They are a tough, uncompromising and committed unit. “We win dirty, we win pretty” attacking midfielder Jamal Lowe enthused in the build up, he being one of many to benefit and feel inspired by the team spirit that Jackett has created. They score goals from all parts and have many options going forward, Lowe being one of a number to feature on the scoring and assist charts along with fellow wide men, Ronan Curtis who has recently been called up by the Republican of Ireland, and Gareth Evans, as well as target men Oli Hawkins and Brett Pitman. Aston Villa loanee Andre Green is returning from injury and may feature too. Even centre back Matt Clarke already has 3 goals to his name this season. They are a growing force and will take some stopping on current form.
As for the Magpies, well the portents are not good. They have lost six league matches on the trot, scoring only one goal in the process and conceding 23. Recent hammerings at home by AFC Fylde (0-6) and away at Havant and Waterlooville (0-7) were particularly uncomfortable, albeit they will point to the fact that they had a player dismissed in the first half of both matches. It was goalkeeper Carl Pentney at Havant and, without a reserve keeper on the bench, the situation was exacerbated and it became a long afternoon for his beleaguered team.
However, whatever the circumstances, such thrashings can have a terrible affect on confidence so that the gaffer, former West Ham and England tyro Alan Devonshire, will have his work cut out to convince his dispirited troops that they can even compete, let along spring a cup upset. If they do, it will be of gargantuan proportions.
Devonshire is struggling to find his best team in this disastrous run, which has seen his side slip into the relegation places after their latest defeat at bottom club Dover Athletic. He will no doubt rely on his stalwarts, captain Alan Massey, Remy Clerima plus midfielders Harry Odametey and James Comley, but it is hard to see where the goals are coming from. At the moment none of his numerous strikers – Ryan Bird, Josh Kelly, Jordan Archer or Herson Alves – can seemingly hit the proverbial barn door and they are not being particularly assisted by attacking midfielders James Akintunde, Nana Owusu, Max Worsfold or Ryan Upward. But this is the cup, and who knows what might happen. After all, it is in the FA Cup that heroes are made. Maidenhead desperately need a hero.
Alas, Maidenhead cannot even look to the history books for any encouragement. It is 121 years since they last progressed past Round One of the FA Cup and in all the time since they have only made it to Round One on 11 occasions. Then again, the FA Cup has a habit of rewriting history.
By contrast, Portsmouth are twice winners of the famous old trophy, in 1939 and 2008. They have pedigree, and history.
If this was a boxing match, the fighters would not have even been allowed into the ring, for the mismatch is so large. But this is football. This is the FA Cup. Miracles do happen. David can slay Goliath, but it is rare, very rare.
The Pompey chimes should be ringing loudly by full time.