We don’t want no regrets at the end of it and if the gods are shining, then The FA Cup has proved many, many times over that shocks can happen, says proud Sheppey United manager Ernie Batten

Thursday 02nd November 2023

SHEPPEY UNITED manager Ernie Batten has told his players to go out and grab the glory during their televised FA Cup First Round showdown against Walsall on Friday night.

ITV4 are screening the club’s biggest ever game – and maiden First Round tie – in the hope of an upset against Mat Sadler’s League Two outfit – at a capacity all-ticket sold out crowd at Holm Park.

Sheppey United – the lowest ranked side left in The FA Cup – go into the tie sitting in fourteenth-place in the Isthmian League South East Division (the eighth-tier of English football), having picked up eight points (two wins and two draws) from their six league outings.

The Ites started their FA Cup journey on 19 August, by beating Sussex side Midhurst & Easebourne 3-0, before going on to beat Ashford-based Kennington (3-1), their league rivals Burgess Hill Town (3-0), before pulling off a couple of upsets.

Batten’s men came away from Welsh side Merthyr Town with an impressive 4-1 win in the Third Qualifying Round, which set up a tie against Isthmian League Premier Division side Billericay Town.

Sheppey United put in an impressive performance in a 1-1 draw in Essex, before beating Gary McCann’s side 4-2 on penalties at Holm Park, on a memorable Tuesday night, after another 1-1 draw.

Sadler’s Walsall, meanwhile, go into the game sitting in fifteenth-place in the League Two table, having picked up 20 points (five wins and five draws) from their 16 league outings.

Since beating Gillingham 4-1 at home on 14 October, Walsall have come away from Newport County with a point in a six-goal game; drawn 1-1 at home to Crawley Town and went down to a 2-1 defeat Mansfield Town last Saturday.

Last season, The Saddlers reached the Fourth Round, losing to then Premier League side Leicester City by a single goal, after beating Wycombe Wanderers (2-0), Carlisle United (2-1) and Stockport County (2-1).

“It’s been an incredibly busy two and a half weeks since the last game against Billericay and it’s been non-stop getting everything organised,” said Batten, who revealed he is being interviewed live on Sky Sports News at 09:30 tomorrow morning.

“Obviously, I have been trying to focus on the team at the same time and the media interest has been quite demanding but a lot of fun and very exciting.”

Batten is feeling a proud man that his beloved club are facing League opposition in The FA Cup for the very first time.

“We’ve done a little bit of homework on them, not too much, we don’t  want to overload the lads with too much information.

“I mean, at the end of the day, they’re four leagues above us and it’s all about how we play on the night, I believe, and if everybody can play 10 out of 10 and the gods are shining on us, you never know.  We done a little bit of background research on them but we’ll be well prepared.”

The Sheppey United boss revealed that Islanders have played a key role in helping the club stage the game at Holm Park.

“I think it’s been an unbelievable response from the local community.  We’ve had to do quite a bit of work to stage this game in terms of getting the stadium ready and the chairman put out an appeal to the local community.

“We’ve had local tradesman come in and tasked with these jobs on a free of charge basis and we’ve had local builders merchants supplying the materials for us free of charge.

“It’s the local community feel, everybody is getting behind it and doing what they can to make it a great evening.”

Batten has urged his players to show the same heart and desire that they put in during those two games against Billericay Town and give the television companies an upset they crave.

“I want them to relax and I want them to play their game and focus on the job in hand and enjoy the evening comes with that.  If you go out and put on your best show, you can enjoy the evening,” said Batten.

“We don’t want no regrets at the end of it and if the gods are shining, then The FA Cup has proved many, many times over that shocks can happen.

“I think (being live on television) that’s the whole excitement isn’t it?  The cameras at these types of games, it’s an attractive tie and it can be quite dramatic. 

“The lowest ranked side in the competition playing a League club.  The odds are stacked in favour of the League club but as I’ve said previously, The FA cup has thrown up these major surprises and we’re hoping that we can add to these tomorrow night.”

Talisman striker Dan Bradshaw faces a race against time to be fit, having scored both goals against Billericay Town, before hobbling off injured in both games.

He scored with a clinical drive from 25-yards in the ninth minute in the away game before being replaced by Oscar Housego in the 64th minute and headed in a 19th minute opener before being replaced on the half-hour mark in the replay.

Batten hopes his seven-goal marksman can play a part on the big night.

“It’s kind of being a race against time to try to get him fit. He trained last night and seemed to come through alright,” revealed Batten.

“I think with these situations it’s on the night. If we decide to take a gamble on him – that’s what it will be.

“I think in the previous two games (against Billericay) when he got injured, he scored two very, very important goals which set up tomorrow’s game.

“I think he will go out there with one leg tied behind his back. He desperately wants to play. We have to do what’s best for the club. He’s got to be right so we have to be fair to him and the club so it will be a late call.”

Batten is beaming with pride and is relishing the opportunity to raise the profile of the club.

“I think, on a personal note, it’s the best achievement personally. I think it’s the most satisfaction that I’ve had.

“As you know, we’ve been fortunate to win trophies and win leagues and I think that this probably tops that because of the importance of involving everybody in the community and the profile of the club. That comes before my personal satisfaction.  My personal satisfaction is knowing that everybody is getting behind the club and it’s raised our profile and done so much good.”

Sheppey’s fans raised the roof at New Lodge in Essex in the last round and did the same in the replay and Batten had this message for the Holm Park faithful.

“Get behind us in your numbers, I know you will make as much noise as you can – let’s make it an intimidating place to go. It was fantastic against Billericay and they really got behind us and the lads felt that and remarked on it to me after the two games – I believe they will be our 12th man.”

After Sheppey’s big occasion, Ramsgate welcome National League side Woking on Saturday, before League One side Charlton Athletic welcome Steve McKimm’s Cray Valley (Paper Mills) to The Valley for another televised clash on Sunday.

It will be the first time that three clubs in the Isthmian League South East Division are playing at this stage of the competition.

Batten added: “I just think it’s an indicator of how strong our league is to have just the three remaining clubs in Step Four in the whole country all in the same division speaks volumes in the league we’re all competing in and it’s credit to the league and the Isthmian League as well. It’s a well organised League and Sheppey are proud to be in it.”

Sheppey United  v  Walsall
The Emirates FA Cup First Round
Friday 3 November 2023
Kick Off 7:45pm
at Holm Park,
 St Peters Close, Queenborough Road, Halfway, Sheerness, Kent ME12 3BD