Paul Thirlwell: Beating Portsmouth 'wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world' for pitch perfect Harrogate Town
Harrogate Town assistant manager Paul Thirlwell knows the odds are against his team on Monday night, but says it would not be the biggest shock in the world were they to knock Portsmouth out of the FA Cup.
The sides meet at Wetherby Road in the final, televised game of FA Cup first-round weekend.
Most non-league teams preparing to host a lucrative cup match in the coming days might have been fretting about the rain which was hammering North Yorkshire on Thursday, whereas Harrogate had a game of walking football taking place early in the afternoon, followed by two school teams. Their 3G playing surface means the weather is no concern, and Thirlwell thinks it is one more thing League One Pompey will have to adapt to.
“As a smaller club, the opportunity to draw bigger clubs is always there in the FA Cup,” said former Sheffield United, Sunderland and Carlisle United midfielder Thirlwell. “We managed to get one really early and Portsmouth would rather have been at home. You've just got to hope the nostalgia of the FA Cup plays into your hands.
“We went to watch them on Tuesday night (when Portsmouth beat Southend United 4-1) and they're a really good side, so we'll be under no illusions.
“As we found out going there, it's a long journey whichever way they decide to travel and they'd have wanted a home draw.
“We're looking forward to it, it's going to be a real big test.
“It wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world but we're going to have to be at our very best, they're going to have to have an off-day and Lady Luck will need to be on our side.”
Saturday's 4-2 defeat at Eastleigh ended a ten-match unbeaten run for Town, seventh in the Conference, and while the pitch might not be set up for a stereotypical FA Cup giantkilling, it will present a challenge Kenny Jackett's side are unused to dealing with.
“I certainly hope it'll be an advantage!” said Thirlwell. “It does benefit us the fact that we train on it every day but Portsmouth are Portsmouth, a really good set of footballers.
“We were saying this morning, would you rather turn up 25 years ago on an absolute mudbath of a non-league ground? Is that better than going out on a true playing surface where you can play the game they probably want to play. I don't know, they'll have to answer that themselves when they turn up.
“All we know is it's really helped us rise, get out of Conference North and do really well last season. Hopefully we can do well again this season, and this is just an added bonus along the way.”