FOOTBALL: Tulips ‘equipped’ to challenge for FA Vase glory

WELCOME RETURN: Jamie Stevens (left) is back for Spalding.
WELCOME RETURN: Jamie Stevens (left) is back for Spalding.
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Pat Rayment has backed his Spalding United side to live up to their tag as third favourites to win this year’s FA Vase.

The Tulips enter the competition in round two and make the long trip to Walsall Wood on Saturday (3pm) as 6/1 shots to go all the way to Wembley.

Only favourites West Auckland Town (3/1) and Spennymoor Town (7/2) have shorter odds with the bookies than Spalding – and Rayment reckons his side have every chance to make history.

“Any club with our resources and players has to have a chance,” said the former professional. “There is an expectation that we’ll do well this year and that’s fair.

“But we have no God-given right to go all the way.

“For a team from Lincolnshire to be considered third favourites at this stage of the competition is already a pretty big deal. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

“Just going on a run, reaching the semi-finals for example, would be massive for the area as a whole and we hope we can deliver.”

The Tulips make the trip to the Black Country on incredible form. They’ve won all 15 of their UCL Premier Division matches to date – including a dramatic 2-1 triumph at Lincolnshire rivals Sleaford on Tuesday night.

Only higher-graded AFC Hornchurch have beaten them in any competition this term, making it a stunning return of 20 wins from 21 games.

But Saturday’s opponents Walsall Wood will be no pushovers. Although they are just 15th in Midland Football Alliance Division One, they knocked much-fancied Leek Town out of this year’s FA Cup and were quarter-finalists in the Vase last term – eventually going out to a Guernsey side that saw off Spalding.

Rayment’s had them watched a few times and has told his side to expect the unexpected.

He said: “I think it’s a difficult tie for us. They are clearly a side that does better in the cups than the league – and that’s always dangerous.

“The reports I’ve had on them have been indifferent, but we just need to focus on ourselves. If we do things right on the day we should be in the hat for the next round.”

The Tulips do have something of a selection headache for Saturday’s 230-mile round-trip. Jake Gibson has left the club due to a work-related 
issue and Peter Bore is out for a number of weeks with a fractured thumb.

They join long-term absentees Jonny Allen and Lee Beeson on the sideline, while key midfielder Chris Hall is also out of Saturday’s tie.

Defender Jamie Stevens does return from his three-game ban, though.

Any fans looking to make the trip to Saturday’s game should use the postcode WS9 9NP for a bearing. The Oak Park ground is located on Lichfield Road, which is just outside of Walsall itself.