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Stockport County manager Dave Challinor has hinted he may need to shake things up to win the FA Cup second round match at Rotherham United.
By Steven Oldham
Speaking ahead of Friday night’s game, Challinor acknowledged the difficult task facing his team as they prepare for another tie at a team two divisions higher than themselves.
League One leaders Rotherham are on a club record 17 game unbeaten streak and are looking for a swift return to the Championship following relegation last season.
“It doesn’t get any tougher (than Rotherham). They are deservedly at the top of League One. They will test us in every aspect of the game - we will be tested tactically and physically.
“We’re going to be positive and try to win the game, but for the first time, we might have to try and win in a different manner. It depends on how Rotherham go about it. We know that we are going to have to be at our best. We need to defend well and deal with what they chuck at us.
“We think we can cause them problems, and that will be our mindset going into the game.
“I’m trying to pin down principles and philosophies, but it’s all about winning football matches. We have to make sure we continue to do that whilst evolving as a group,” he said.
Challinor’s first game in charge was in this competition’s first round, as his side forced a replay after holding Bolton Wanderers to a 2-2 draw. A memorable night in front of the BBC cameras followed, with his side winning 5-3 in an astonishing game at a packed Edgeley Park.
The National League side are on a four game winning streak in all competitions and are unbeaten in six since the ex-Hartlepool United boss took over a month ago.
County have sold their full allocation of 2,600 seats at The New York Stadium, which is around half the tickets they received for the Bolton match.
“The players have done magnificently over the last 2-3 weeks and have been rewarded for their performances - they’ve won games, looked convincing and scored plenty of goals.
“They’re playing well and getting results against teams at a higher level than ours. There are really positive signs and hopefully they can continue.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure that the fans are in the game, and that we can use them to our advantage. Our travelling support has been amazing, and hopefully we give them another special night in this competition,” he said.
Rotherham may have yo-yoed between the second and third tiers in the past five seasons, but the boss sees The Millers as a club to emulate.
The two clubs have gone in opposite directions since last meeting in League Two ten years ago. Rotherham have gained promotion to the Championship three times, while County went in the opposite direction and spent six seasons in the sixth tier.
Now with the SK3 side looking upwards once more, Challinor wants his players to use the game as another test to match the club’s lofty ambitions.
“We’re going there to match ourselves against a really good team that are undoubtedly looking to get into the Championship. It’s a really good marker for us as to where we’re at, because we aspire to be what they are.
“We’re going in with real belief and real confidence that we can put in a performance to show how far we’ve come in a short space of time.
“It makes no difference who we play, we respect the opposition. We recognise the strengths of the opponents, but ultimately we focus on us and what we can do to cause them problems.
“As you’d expect with the magnitude of the game, everyone wants to play so we have a tough selection to make. We’re in a strong place with such depth within the squad and it keeps everybody on their toes and motivated,” he said.
Challinor’s only fresh injury concern lies with Jordan Keane, who had to be replaced in last weekend’s 4-1 win at Wealdstone.
The returning Tom Walker - fresh from a month’s loan at Altrincham - is cup tied, and will also miss out. Ben Whitfield is a longer term injury loss, having picked up a stress fracture in his foot in Challinor’s first game. The winger is on the shelf for at least two more months.
Much has been said about County’s transfer activity this season. It’s undoubtedly the strength in depth at Edgeley Park that has allowed them to maintain strong performances in the face of injuries to key players over the last few months.
Not only that, the competition for places is still fierce within the dressing room. A great example is in between the sticks. Keepers Ben Hinchliffe and Ethan Ross would likely be among the first picks in dressing rooms across the National League, but they have both had spells on the sidelines this season.
“The really good problem I have at the minute is that we have lots of players at the top end of the pitch that are really a threat. It’s a great position for us to be in.
“I know that players all want to play in every game. The game’s moved on. Players don’t play 60 games a season anymore, it doesn’t happen. They know they will get opportunities to show us what they’re about.
“There will be games where people don’t play well, and don’t take their chances. The players know within the dressing room, regardless of where you play you’re under pressure - there’s somebody not far behind you wanting to take your place,” he said.
As a team, The Hatters have scored 17 times in the Challinor era to date. Under Simon Rusk, they only managed to score 14 times in 13 games.
Paddy Madden and Scott Quigley have been two of the key figures in the team’s upturn in form, scoring eight goals between them in six games. Ollie Crankshaw also helped himself to a hat-trick last time out, and has seven for the season to date. They are three of the players who have joined the club in 2021 from Football League sides.
“The players are scoring goals and creating opportunities for themselves and each other. Both Paddy and Scott have played at a higher level. Paddy certainly knows what League One is all about.
“Scott also has the ability to do that. He’s scored goals in League Two and is in really good form with us.
“Ollie was in decent form when we came into the club. He’s quite new to the squad and team, but his career here has started really well,” he said.