Rowland: FA Vase clash is our biggest of the season

Simon Rowland
Simon Rowland

Simon Rowland says this weekend’s FA Vase last-16 tie is the most important of Eastbourne United’s season so far.

EBAC Northern League Division One outfit Morpeth Town are all set for the 362-mile trip down south and while United will be the underdogs, they’ve upset the odds on numerous occasions this season, and Rowland is confident his players can rise to the big occasion once more.

The Northern Division One is the equivalent to the Ryman Premier but Rowland said they’ve left no stone unturned in their meticulous preparation and hopes that can give them the edge over the higher-ranked opponents.

“One-hundred per cent it’s our biggest game,” he said.

“The players have never been more prepared for a game, there’s been a massive build-up and we’ve prepared really, really well. It’s up to the players now.

“Scott Price (assistant manager) has spoken to the manager of Westfields, who played Morpeth recently, so we’ve done as much homework as we can. We’ve identified some specific threats but if we play to the best of our ability then we won’t be too far away.”

To underline the importance of the tie, Morpeth, who have huge financial resources available to them, flew out to Qatar for a four-day training camp in preparation for the match.

The Oval couldn’t be further removed from the Middle East, however, and with the torrid weather conditions that have swept the country set to continue, there is a chance the game won’t go ahead this weekend anyway.

Calling the game off could prove expensive for United, who have already laid out in excess of £3,000 for the game.

Vase rules stipulate the home side must pay for the visiting side’s travel and accommodation, although if the postponement comes before Morpeth start the trip down, they will be reimbursed.

That gives them until Friday morning to call the game off but even if they deem it fit to go ahead, the referee might decide otherwise come Saturday afternoon - leaving United looking at a bill of more than £6,000.

Rowland is raring to go, though, and he will have a strong squad to choose from should it go ahead.

Experienced centre back Sean Ray, who is on a dual contract with United and Kingstonian, has been made available by his parent club, while Pete Featherstone and Jason Taylor are the only absentees.

Taylor looked set to be ruled out for the rest of the season with a broken leg but the manager revealed that he could be set for an early return.

A visit to the doctors this week provided some encouragement and the jet-heeled winger could be back as early as March. However, Rowland is not getting carried away and thinks that an April return is more realistic.

Taylor’s replacement, Joe Dryer, has been in excellent form since his arrival from Peacehaven & Telscombe and is set to continue in his absence.

Dryer netted a hat-trick in the 7-2 win at Hanworth Villa in the last round and although Rowland said his team are missing Taylor’s pace, he is pleased with the impact his recent signing has made.

“He’s been a real big plus,” he added.

“He doesn’t have the pace of Jason but his strength means he goes past players and his delivery is exceptional.”