Irlam manager Michael Dodd is looking for his team to maintain their good form as they prepare for their Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round tie against Dunston UTS on Saturday.
The team is presently on a six match unbeaten run and Michael is hoping that momentum will carry forward into Saturday, as they go into one of the biggest games in the club’s history.
“Before this season the club had only ever won one tie previously in the FA Cup, and that was seven years ago”, said Michael.
“Since joining the league, every other season we've either not been in it or knocked out in the first round.
“So to win three ties is massive for the club, and with the prize money doubled this season it makes it even bigger for the committee and everyone around the club. It brings a real buzz to the ground, and the players really feel that they are playing in a big competition”.
The upbeat mood around the Ambitek Stadium is a far cry from the turn of the year, when a bad run plunged Irlam into the relegation. A late season rally pushed them up the table and Michael says there were a number of lessons learned.
“In the end I was happy with how last season went. We went through a bad patch over Christmas where we lost six games on the bounce which put us in a little bit of trouble.
“But we always had games in hand and had players to come back who we felt would get us out of that and we ended up finishing 13th out of 23 in mid-table, so in the end we were happy.
“We brought in some good players from the midway point in the season who we have managed to retain this season, and I think we have played ten games now and only lost once, so we have got a good bit of resolve about us and good togetherness.
“I think I had previously always put ability as the main attribute that you look for in individual player, whereas I have learned about togethernesss as a group. The atmosphere and the environment is probably much more important than individual ability of the members of the group.
“Fitness is paramount too, although that seems an obvious thing to say. The fittest players are the ones that keep going to the end and turn defeats into draws and draws into wins, getting you points in the dying minutes of games.
“So fitness, togetherness and character are the things I have learned from last season and have earmarked as the most important things to push you on as a team”.
Looking ahead to the coming weeks, Michael is hoping that the boost from the FA Cup results will carry into league games.
“Our next aim is to start getting three points on the board from games. The 3-3 draw against Silsden (last week) was the fourth game we have drawn in the league so we need to start turning those draws into wins.
“Three points is massive in this division, it moves you right up the table so we need to start putting the run of wins together.
“That breeds belief in the group, they get closer together and these big FA Cup games are great. You get attention on social media, attention from groups of friends, and you feel great to be part of the club and it really does build that atmosphere”.
As for the FA Cup game itself up at Dunston on Saturday, it’s the fourth successive away tie in the competition for Irlam, but with a tie against a team from the same Step 5 level, Michael understandably believes that they can go in to the game with confidence.
“Our Chairman said after the game against Silsden that we have got a curse on our own ground at the minute, giving away leads late on more than once this season”, said Michael.
“When we go away we seem to be galvanised a little bit, we seem to be able to put a performance in and we seem to be thriving on the road.
“The league is priority and always will be, but to have that buzz (from the FA Cup) running alongside it is great. It keeps the lads going from week to week, and is something to look forward to.
“You either look for a draw against a massive team, and go out in a blaze of glory, or you are looking for a tie that you can get your teeth into and you think you can win.
“Obviously we see the Dunston game as one we can potentially win, but we have no right to go there and win the game and neither have they.
“It's a 50-50 game and we are looking forward to going up there, and just having a go”.