By Charlie Talbot-Smith www.thefa.com
Last season the stars aligned to put Stocksbridge Park Steels in the spotlight and a year on, manager Chris Hilton is hoping his side can continue to shine on the big stage.
While Jamie Vardy, who spent four years with the Steels, was completing a fairytale rise to the top on a record-breaking run in the Premier League, the non-League outfit upset the odds to make it to the first round proper of The Buildbase FA Trophy.
Their run – which saw them take down Trophy holders North Ferriby United along the way – was eventually ended by Gateshead.
But after three consecutive wins so far this season against Clitheroe, Lancaster and Kidsgrove, the Steels now welcome Stalybridge Celtic – who sit two leagues above them – to Bracken Moor on Saturday.
Victory would put them back in the hat for the first round and Hilton is adamant his side are ready for whatever Celtic can throw at them.
“Definitely at home this is one of, if not the biggest games we have had, I cannot remember one bigger,” he said.
“The lads have realised how important it is, we did so well last year and there were a lot of people that didn’t think we could do it again.
“But we wanted to show that it was not a one-off fluke, and we are one game away from matching that – we know it won’t be easy but we will give it our best.
“We don’t fear anybody and if we play to our potential then we can beat anyone.
“Stalybridge are two leagues above, we will need them to have an off day and we will need a bit of luck.
“We won’t set up to shut up shop, we will want to go out there and give it a go.”
These two sides have met twice before, both times in The Emirates FA Cup, with Celtic the victor in both – most recently in 2009.
But while the Steels’ league form has been patchy of late, Hilton has been forced to shuffle his squad to accommodate competing on two fronts.
They are however, unbeaten against the top four sides in the Northern Premier League Division One South and the manager is adamant his side are on the verge of something special.
“A cup run is massive to any club at this standard, it brings in extra money and every little helps out,” he added.
“We got on the map with our run last year, at the same time that Jamie Vardy was on his amazing run so there was a bit of double delight.
“This year we are trying to do it again, the first round will get extra people through the gates, that is what we are working for.”
Buildbase FA Trophy history
Stocksbridge Park Steels made the first round proper last season before going out to Gateshead.
Their best-ever run in the competition came back in the 1999-00 season when they made the third round before losing to Scarborough on a replay.
Stalybridge Celtic have been knocked out at this stage for the last two seasons in a row but the National League North side did make the quarter finals back in 2001-02.
Did you know?
Stalybridge Celtic put seven past the Steels in a 7-2 win in The FA Cup back in 2009 – the most recent meeting between the two sides. A certain Jamie Vardy grabbed both the Steels goals that day. Stalybridge also knocked them out of The FA Cup back in 1992-93 – the only other time the two sides have met.
One to watch
Stocksbridge striker Joe Lumsden has been in fine form of late and was named Non-League Yorkshire’s October player of the month. He scored one and made another in their impressive away league victory over title-chasers Spalding United last time out and Celtic will need to keep him quiet if they are to advance.
A place in the hat for the first round proper, as well as a cheque for £4000, awaits the winner.