AFC Sudbury's impressive defensive record set for biggest test yet against Dartford in the FA Cup
AFC Sudbury’s defensive record this term is bound to be the envy of teams up and down the country – and joint boss Rick Andrews is hoping it continues on Saturday as his side goes in search of what would be one of the most famous results in the club’s history.
Last weekend the Yellows played out a 0-0 draw with Cray Valley PM in the Buildbase FA Trophy, before going on to prevail 3-2 on penalties to set up a third qualifying round tie at Brentwood Town.
It extended Sudbury’s impressive run to nine clean sheets from their last 10 outings in all competitions, while they have shipped just three goals overall since the 2021/22 campaign got under way on August 14.
And they will need all of that defiance – and plenty more – if they are to stand any chance of causing an upset in the Emirates FA Cup this weekend.
National League South leaders Dartford, who are two levels above AFC, will be the visitors to The MEL Group Stadium (3pm) – boasting a record of seven wins and a draw from their first eight fixtures this term.
They have also not been shy when it comes to finding the back of the net, having scored 30 goals from 10 outings in all competitions.
It is therefore a big barrier that stands in the way of Sudbury and a place in the first round proper for a second time. But with such a stubborn rearguard, Andrews is adopting a ‘you never know’ type of approach to the game.
“They’ve got off to a flyer and have got some exceptional players,” said Andrews, who along with fellow manager Angelo Harrop has tasted defeat just once since taking charge of the club in the summer.
“We know what we’re in for and we cannot be going toe-to-toe with them – that would be madness.
“We’ve got to make it difficult, break things up and try to disrupt their rhythm.
“Like every game, the message to the boys is to make sure we’re still in it at half-time.
“Don’t buckle, keep battling away and we can look to make changes at half-time. That is what we did on Saturday – they were the best side we’ve played this season and gave us a bit of a lesson in the first half, but we tweaked things and it was much better in the second half.
“We can’t really lose this weekend, nobody expects us to win and it’s about giving a good account of ourselves.
“But I’ve been involved in big one-off games before and you just never know. There might be a big decision go our way – maybe they have a player sent off early or something – and it falls our way.
“We’re defending really well, which is credit to Angelo, Potts (Danny Potter, goalkeeping coach) and Joycey (Liam Joyce, coach) and the work they’re doing on the training pitch.
“And if you’re doing the job defensively, it gives you a good chance of winning games.”
One selection dilemma for Andrews and the staff will be who features between the posts.
Alfie Stronge, who was the hero in goal during last weekend’s shoot-out, is cup-tied, meaning either James Askew or Josh Blunkell will take the gloves.
The young duo have impressed when called upon this season, and Andrews feels it will be another strong test of their credentials for whoever gets the nob.
“James has done well for us and certainly done nothing wrong,” added the ex-Stowmarket manager.
“He unfortunately got injured and we hoped he’d be fit for Cheshunt (in the FA Cup) but wasn’t and that’s where Josh came in and he was excellent as well.
“Neither of them have let us down and I don’t think there is much between them – they’re very good ‘keepers.
“We’re hearing there could be around 300 Dartford fans coming down, so whoever gets the nod will need to be mentally tough if they’re all behind the goal.”
With the Darts expected to bring a large following, Andrews is hoping the people of Sudbury and the surrounding area get themselves down to King’s Marsh to act as the ‘12th man’.
He said: “We didn’t have that many on Saturday but we still got a rousing reception when we came off which was great to hear and see.
“We’ve already seen Sudbury fans recognise hard work and that’s what the lads are doing.
“We’re not the finished product and we know it’s not always been fluent going forward, a bit ugly at times as well.
“We’ll be working on that over the coming weeks but if fans pay their money, they want to see hard work and we can give them that.
“The team spirit is incredible among the boys and I know they’ll appreciate the support at the weekend.”