Boreham Wood manager Luke Garrard rates FA Trophy opponents Maidstone United highly - and hopes to be leading his team out at Wembley come May should they progress past round four.
By Steven Oldham
Tough test in store for Boreham Wood
The clash between two high-flying teams in their respective leagues is one of the ties of the round, with Garrard’s Wood side aiming for a third win in as many competitions in seven days.
Last Saturday’s famous 2-0 FA Cup victory over the manager’s former club AFC Wimbledon saw the club progress to the fourth round for the first time. A narrow midweek win over Wealdstone in domestic duties followed to keep the club firmly involved in the title race and unbeaten since October.
Garrard said: “Maidstone are a fantastic side in the National South. I watched them against Tonbridge Angels on Boxing Day and I was impressed with how they played there.
“In my opinion, they are a National League side in the NLS. A lot of their players were at this level last year.
“I genuinely believed ahead of the St Albans FA Cup game that we would win and feel comfortable doing so. This time, I really believe that it will be a tight affair on Saturday. Regan Booty’s very good on set pieces. They’ve got real attacking intent and it will be a really tough tie. I’ll be stating to the boys that this is a National League fixture.”
The Meadow Park side knocked out National League rivals Woking to reach this stage. The Stones received a bye in the last round after Maidenhead United withdrew due to a Covid outbreak. Hakan Hayrettin’ side are unbeaten since November themselves and recently put together a six game winning streak to launch themselves up the NLS table.
Friendly foes Garrard and Harris meet again
The game will see Garrard come up against former number two Terry Harris - with the ex Dagenham & Redbridge man occupying the same position at Maidstone under Hayrettin.
It’s clear there is still a lot of respect and friendship between the pair, who led the club to the National League playoff final and a best ever league finish of fourth place in 2017.
Nevertheless, the 36-year-old obviously wants his side to progress - and give a real good go at winning the Trophy for the first time. He also admits Trophy games finishing on the day this season is a bonus, with his side still involved in three competitions.
“I talked to Terry just this morning - and I still utilise a lot of his traits. We see the game the same way. What I see from his and Hakan’s team’s performances, they’re very similar to how we go about our business.
“We’ve got 20 players in the squad now with 1 or 2 still to come back. I honestly feel that we've got enough depth to have a go in the Trophy. I made 2 changes vs Wealdstone and will make changes on Saturday. If we lose, you won’t be hearing me saying at the end of the game that I didn’t want to win - I want to go as far as we possibly can. It’s an opportunity to go to Wembley - and that doesn’t come around too often. There are 13 National League sides left in the competition - and three will definitely go out as six play each other. Then you’ve got the sides who will go out on the day to lower ranked opponents.
“Making a couple of changes freshens the pack. I want to beat Maidstone and get as far as we can in the Trophy. We’re in a position to do so with the personnel we have,” he said.
Cup progress all part of the bigger plan
The side are back in front of the TV cameras in their fourth round FA Cup at Bournemouth, with broadcasters infamously shunning all non-league involvement in round three for terrestrial showing.
Chesterfield and Yeovil Town’s games were belatedly added to the BBC’s live red button coverage, but both upsets were missed by live audiences as Boreham Wood and Kidderminster Harriers progressed past EFL opponents.
Garrard is realistic at his side’s chance of progressing any further, having already led the club to unchartered territory in the competition.
“Bournemouth are an unbelievable side - it will be no test in terms of seeing if we can compete at a Championship level every week. It’s an opportunity for the boys to showcase their talents.
“Last Saturday was amazing, for a club of our size to be in the last 32 of the FA Cup is fantastic. I probably haven’t enjoyed it as much as I wanted to - for me the Wealdstone prep began on Sunday.
“It’s relentless, the games are coming thick and fast. It’s hard for me to tell the boys not to enjoy it, but the bread and butter is massively important.
“I’ve won promotions - you probably only play excellently 2 or 3 times a year. I look at the performance as being our biggest win of the season - it wasn’t pretty or free flowing, but we ground out the win,” he said.
The team’s current position is no fluke - they have already recorded 16 clean sheets this season and have three games in hand on current league leaders Halifax Town. They might not be the most fashionable club in a division littered with ex-EFL sides, but there can be no doubt that they have earned their place.