Robins aiming to defy odds again
When it was put to Brady Stone that his Ely City side have won the same amount of Buildbase FA Vase ties as they have league matches this season, his response was to laugh.
It just goes to highlight the increasing sense of disbelief that surrounds The Robins — even from within — and their record-breaking run to the last 16 of the national tournament.
After all, while Stone’s men are only being kept out of the Thurlow Nunn League Premier Division relegation zone on goal difference after the weekend’s home defeat to Fakenham Town, they are just three rounds away from booking themselves a day out at Wembley in May.
Saturday’s fifth-round visitors to The Unwin Ground will be a Sporting Khalsa side that currently occupies fifth position in the Midland Football League Premier Division, having lost just one of their last nine games in all competitions.
Such statistics will mean Ely, who are hunting their seventh Vase win of the campaign, will once again take on the role of underdogs, but Stone is more than comfortable with that tag.
“At times I feel like double checking just to make sure we have actually got this far! It is a great achievement,” said the boss.
“It is pretty incredible that we have won the same number of games in The Vase to what we have in the league.
“For whatever reason, we just turn it on in The Vase. We do not play any differently, we just take our chances.
“A lot of my lads are used to being the underdog. They have played in the Cambs League in front of 20 or 30 people and had to work their way up.
“Hopefully on Saturday there will be around 400 fans to watch them and they deserve it, because each of them has been great so far.”
A record crowd of 386 flocked to Ely’s Downham Road base for the clash with Shepshed Dynamo — league rivals of Khalsa — in the previous round.
Many of those are expected to return through the turnstile this weekend, and it is that growing connection between the club and the community that has Stone conceding he is about to be involved in one of the biggest matches of his football career.
“I played in some big FA Youth Cup ties for Cambridge United and they are memories that will stay with me forever,” he added.
“But you cannot get away from the fact that if you are from the area — like I am — this is one of the biggest games.
“Jamie Alsop (left-back and captain) has been involved in some good cup runs at other teams, but he said this means more because he is local. He is right about that.
“I am sure there is going to be another good crowd, so hopefully we will put on a show.
“I can guarantee the lads will give their all, and on our day we can be a match for anyone at this level.”
Adie Cambridge (cup tied) and Sam Goodge (injured) will miss out, but aside from those two, Stone will have a fully fit squad to select from.