Dom Di Paola insists Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup second qualifying round tie against Dartford will be treated as a ‘one-off, free hit’ as we look to cause a potential upset.
The Darts have plenty of high-level non-league experience, spending the majority of their recent history in the National League (Conference). In 2015, when we suffered relegation to the Southern Combination Football League, they were playing in the National League Premier.
Nowadays, Dartford are just one tier above ourselves, currently in the National League South and this fixture represents more than any other, just how quickly the Hornets have risen, which has caught all, including Dom, by surprise.
The manager said: “You do have to pinch yourself to think how far the club has come over the last 14/15 months. The profile of the club has changed massively. We’re playing big clubs now, getting decent gates, and I think everyone has been surprised at how well we’re doing at the moment. The attitude and character of the players is brilliant and that went a long way to getting us promoted last season.”
Saturday’s visitors have had a difficult start to their campaign, taking ten points from 11 games, leaving them sat in 18th although a recent manager change may signal an upturn in form with Tony Burnham coming in to help the Darts pick up their first win in five games, at Concord Rangers, last weekend.
And Dom is wary of a very potent attacking threat which includes Charlie Sheringham, son of former England international Teddy. He said: “It’s going to be a completely different ball game again. Dartford are a division above us and will come here expecting to win.
“Last season I think we were fortunate to have caught Corinthian-Casuals and Carshalton at the right time. Perhaps we’ve missed the boat with Dartford now things have changed around but we’ll have to see. It’s a one-off game, another free hit, but the rewards are very good if you have a successful run in this competition and whatever happens it should be a good day for the club and supporters.”
The two sides haven’t met since 2010, and the Hornets are without a win against Saturday’s opponents for over a decade. Saturday’s match is the second time the two clubs have met in the FA Cup. A preliminary round tie in 1996 pitted the Hornets, who had secured the Isthmian Division Three title in their previous campaign, against a Dartford side who were in the Southern League South.
Following a 1-1 draw, Horsham were victorious two days later, winning 1-0 in a replay, to reach the second qualifying round.
This Saturday will be the club’s biggest test of the season so far and, certainly the biggest game to be held at our new home and Dom recognises what it means. He said: “Everyone loves playing in the FA Cup, and it is obviously a big game for everyone, but its still too early in the competition for us to get over-excited about it.
“We’ll be treating Saturday as just another game, preparing the same way as usual. The boys are always up for every game and certainly won’t need any extra motivation for this one.”
Due to an expected large crowd, we advise supporters to arrive early and watch the early Premier League kick-off between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur in our clubhouse, which opens from 12pm.
Supporters travelling by car are reminded to park at the RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, RH13 9RS, where a free shuttle service will take fans to and from the ground, running at regular intervals from 1.30pm.
The match at The Camping World Community Stadium kicks off at 3pm. Entry is ALL-PAY, with admission set at £11 for adults, £6 for seniors/students/U18s and £2 for U16s.
For those unable to make it, you can keep updated via Twitter and Facebook (@HorshamFC).
For those who can make it, we look forward to seeing you. Don’t forget to #BringTheNoise.