Tamworth players will be passionate
CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City have been warned to be wary of the underdogs when they begin their FA Cup mission at non-league Tamworth on Saturday.
Norwich City have been warned to be wary of the underdogs when they begin their FA Cup mission at non-league Tamworth on Saturday.
The warning comes from a man who should know - a former manager of the Conference side and a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, Gary Mills.
"It is going to be difficult, no doubt about it," said Mills. "It's a great time for Tamworth to be playing the game because they're not doing too well in the league and this will take their minds off it.
"They are a decent side and they will be relishing this game for a variety of reasons: it is the third round of the Cup and they're up against a Championship side, and on the footballing front there is no better game for them at the moment than playing a side like Norwich City."
Mills - who transformed Tamworth from Dr Martens Premier Division strugglers into title challengers - says the Lambs will be professional in their approach, but warns of a shock to the City players' system both on and off the pitch.
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"The ground is very compact, they have portable buildings for changing rooms - they're nice, but they are portable - and they have a fan base which is very hostile, not in a nasty and aggressive way, but in a passionate way.
"The fans were magnificent when I was there and they still are. They're getting crowds of 1,000, sometimes 1,200, so there will be many more than that on Saturday and they will be very noisy - they certainly helped my team at times with their support and it will be a great atmosphere.
"The pitch won't be bad - they're not the sort of club to deliberately let it get that way, plus they don't train on it any more so it's not as cut up as it used to be."
Mills' career has taken in a European Cup final start in 1979 at the age of 18 - under the legendary Brian Clough - and moves to Derby, Notts County and Leicester that took him to more than 500 league appearances before embarking on a managerial career which saw in charge at Grantham, King's Lynn and 18 months at Tamworth where his success led to him taking a coaching job at Coventry in the summer of 2002 before taking charge at Notts County and, now, Alfreton Town.
"I have been in both dressing rooms," said the 45-year-old. "When the draw is made, as a professional, the last thing you want is an away draw to a club like Tamworth. The reaction at Tamworth would have been the opposite - okay, everyone would have wanted a Premiership club, that's always the aim, for a non-league side, but they have got a quality Championship side and it's still a massive game for them because they have a good chance of causing an upset."
Mills is adamant that City will have to be switched on mentally if they are to reach the fourth round for only the second time in the last decade.
"It depends on how mentally strong they are - if they're not, it's advantage Tamworth," he said. "If Norwich think they can play it around they have another thought coming. Knowing Tamworth's manager, Mark Cooper, they will be on the front foot and their players will be as passionate as the fans.
"They do try and play football, but at that level it's different - the lower you go down the leagues the more you have to be on your front foot. Norwich won't have the time on the ball that they do in the Championship."
Tamworth have reached the third round by virtue of three excellent wins - first over Harrogate, but then over fellow Conference sides Burton and Rushden & Diamonds - and have memories of last year's tussle with Stoke still clear in the memory.
"Tamworth have built up a reputation in the FA Cup in the last few years, they've had some great results, and while they haven't beaten a league team this season, they are in the mould, they have the mindset while this is Norwich's first match. Tamworth have got the bug, they're in front of their own fans, and an upset is on the cards.
"If you don't go there fully prepared you will be caught out. It will be close, probably just one goal either way, but it could go either way."