Ellesmere’s Arlen Birch is gunning for a huge FA Cup upset when non-league Chorley take on Derby County on Saturday.
Birch and his team mates have already overcome Wigan Athletic and Peteborough United, on the road to facing Wayne Rooney’s side.
However, the County squad that lines up at Victory Park on Saturday lunchtime will be far different to the one Chorley were originally expecting to face.
The Rams have shut their training ground due to a Covid outbreak, with the club’s under 23s now heading to the North West for the game.
Rooney himself won’t be in the dugout either, which, for Birch and his team mates takes a bit of the shine off the occasion.
“It is disappointing obviously Rooney won’t be in the dugout and we won’t be facing the full Derby side,” admitted Birch.
“But it is what it is. They will be a strong side, I played at under 23s level for a while and there are some good players at that level.
“There will be lads who could play in the Football League who will want to impress, so it isn’t going to be easy.
“But obviously that gap closes now with it being a different side, so it is a massive opportunity for us.
“And one we’re all up for.”
Chorley’s preparation for the game will have been hampered by the news that Covid has ripped through the Rams camp.
All the coaching staff’s work to target Derby’s weaknesses changes now, with no first team players involved.
“It is an interesting one, because we have set up to play against a Rooney side and we’ve looked at what they’re about,” said Birch.
“So if the under 23s have that same philosophy then great, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Birch, previously an under 23s player himself with Burnley admits he was a bit ‘snobbish’ when he previously turned down loans to National League and National League North clubs.
However, ahead of facing the Derby under 23 side on Saturday, he admits now he has played at both levels he sees the gap as being a lot smaller.
And that bodes well for a potential FA Cup shock.
“When I was at Burnley I had chances to go out on loan to that level and I turned them down, I was maybe a bit snobbish about the level,” added Birch.
“But I shouldn’t have been because now I have played at this level for a few years, I know how good it is.
“So that gap is smaller and we’re just looking forward to getting out there on Saturday.
“We’ll show our physicality as we have a few older lads, and hopefully we can do something.”
In normal circumstances the Chorley ground would be rocking come 12.15pm on Saturday, with the atmosphere hitting fever pitch.
However, with the current situation, fans will have to settle for seats on the sofa and fake crowd noise through their speakers.
“Again, like the other games, without the fans it isn’t as good as it could be,” said Birch.
“We would want them there through all this and the atmosphere would have probably benefited us more.”
The closure of Derby’s training ground and other facilities across the UK this week has hit home how much the new rise in Covid infections is impacting sport.
Football all the way to National League North level, which Chorley play at, is still going.
Birch admitted any player who said they weren’t concerned playing in the current climate would be lying.
But the right back added that it is reassuring to know all the right protocols are in place.
He added: “It is concerning and every player will admit that.
“But we have the right protocols and measures in place, that is the reassuring part.
“And at our level, maybe unlike elsewhere, if there is any danger whatsoever then it is cancelled.
“They don’t try and play through, the game is off and it will be re-arranged.”
PICTURE – CHORLEY FC