From the desert to a soggy south coast

Simon Rowland is unimpressed by Morpeth's preparations in Qatar
Simon Rowland is unimpressed by Morpeth's preparations in Qatar

Manager Simon Rowland has stoked the fires ahead of Eastbourne United’s FA Vase last 16 clash with Morpeth Town on Saturday.

The Northern league outfit were due to travel down last weekend but the game was called of due to the weather, and while the trip down south from Northumberland represents something of a pilgrimage, it is nothing quite like the journey they made in preparation for the tie.

Backed by a local benefactor, Morpeth went to Qatar for a four-day training camp, as well as to play two friendlies. Rowland, however, believes the trip was nothing more than an attempt to gain some publicity and thinks it will do their chances this weekend no favours.

“For them to go away is great but it’s just a publicity stunt,” he said.

“I don’t care if they’ve done a tour of the Middle East because the conditions in Qatar will have been completely different to the conditions in Eastbourne.

“Our pitch is going to be heavy on Saturday and I don’t imagine the rainfall in Qatar will have been quite what it’s been in Eastbourne during their hottest period.”

The bad blood between the two managers started last week, with Morpeth manager Nick Gray last week expressing his anger at sides in their league conspiring with United in their scouting mission.

A number of Morpeth’s league rivals readily supplied United with information on their players and tactics but, although Rowland has been meticulous in preparing his players for what to expect from Saturday’s visitors, he said it’s more important to concentrate on their own strengths.

“The focus has to be on us,” he added.

“Whoever turns up on Saturday, plays to the best of their ability and gets that bit of luck will go through. We have to be aware of them but the bottom line is that it’s down to how we play as a team and how much fight we show.”

United are just three games from a Wembley final and the stakes are high in this clash.

The winners will bank a cheque of £2,500 and will host Ampthill in the quarter-finals. Rowland’s men prepared in the perfect fashion with a convincing 4-0 win at Saltdean United in Sussex Division Two on Tuesday night. They were, however, disappointed by some areas of the pitch and Rowland, who described the referee as “arrogant”, revealed their requests for the pitch to be looked at fell on deaf ears.

And they were left to pay the price after Jack Aston ended up in hospital with a leg injury, but thankfully it doesn’t look too bad.

Other than that they came through the game relatively unscathed and will be close to full strength for Saturday’s fixture.

Pete Featherstone is set to return but Jason Taylor is still out with a broken leg. Meanwhile, centre-back Sean Ray, who has commitments with parent club Kingstonian, is also set to miss out.

See Tuesday’s Gazette and for match report and pictures