We chat to Swindon Town winger Matt Ritchie about the prospect of a Second Round giant-killing against Stoke City.
Having swept Brighton and Hove Albion aside in Round 1, are you confident of causing another upset at the Britannia Stadium, Matt?
You never know in cup football do you? We had a taste of how it felt to slay a bigger club when we knocked Wigan Athletic out of the FA Cup last season and a repeat would be nice.
It will be a good test for us and it will give us a benchmark of how far we are away from being at the standards the big clubs set. But, here at Swindon, we always feel we’re capable of beating anyone on our day so we believe we have a chance.
What do you think of Tony Pulis’ side?
They are going to be sharp, there’s no two ways about that. I look at the squad they have and it’s packed with talented players like Peter Crouch and Matthew Etherington, and they’ve recently signed some quality, too.
And, as everyone knows with Stoke, you have to be ready for a physical battle but we’re not unaccustomed to that, having just been promoted from npower League 2. It’s going to be really interesting to see how we fare against them.
Have you played at the Britannia before?
No, this will be my first match there, so I’m excited. Performing at Premier League stadiums is something we all enjoy and we want to give a good account of ourselves. If they play a full strength team that will be great but even if they rest a few, it’s not as if their squad players are making up the numbers. Anyone who we come up against in this game is going to be a quality footballer. I can’t wait.
It seems Swindon have begun the season in confident fashion, you must be enjoying it?
Absolutely, we’ve got off to a great start and put in a couple of really positive performances, too - particularly against Crawley Town. Confidence is sky high.
What’s the secret?
We’re super fit, well organised and have quality footballers. When all of those things click at once and we get on a roll, we’re a pretty good team. Luckily for us that’s happening more often than not under Paolo Di Canio and long may it continue.
You mentioned fitness, isn’t Paolo Di Canio a notoriously hard taskmaster?
Oh yes. The gaffer has a very high work ethic and demands a strong, winning mentality and it’s down to us players to stick with it and toe the line.
We came back early this summer and spent two weeks in Italy working very, very hard but when you get the rewards with outstanding performances it’s all worth it. As players we’re asked to put in long hours and a lot of hard work but as a result we’re so fit and strong. It’s showing in matches too, as in the last 20 minutes of games we’re kicking on with higher energy levels than our opponents.
Is the manager one of the reasons behind your own sensational form in a Swindon shirt?
I feel better than I’ve ever felt, put it that way. I am definitely fitter, faster and stronger since working with the gaffer so I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s been an outstanding influence on me and my team-mates, which is brilliant for all concerned. We have our moments of course when we moan and groan but, at the end of the day, the manager is turning us into better players so we are grateful for it.
What’s it like to play for a boss with such a huge personality?
His enthusiasm, love and passion for the game rubs off on us and you can see that in how we play. His behaviour makes us on edge to perform for him. The manager sets his standards extremely high and it’s down to us to respond to it properly because if we don’t, we won’t play - it’s as simple as that. Us footballers will do anything to play, we hate missing out so it’s having a really positive effect.
How much did it mean to you to be named npower League 2 Player of the Year last season?
It was so nice to recognised. It was a proud moment but I couldn’t have won that award without the help of the other players and the staff, so I’m very grateful to them.
You seem to have carried that form into the 2012/13 campaign, too…
It’s going pretty well at the moment but I still have a long way to go and huge improvements to make to my game. I think I can improve on something new every day that I train. I’ve been around the block a bit with Portsmouth, Notts County and Dagenham & Redbridge but at those clubs I acted and felt like a boy. Now my body is changing and I’m maturing as a person - I’m more of a man. That’s reflected in my performances too, I think, which are more grown up and responsible than they used to be.
And what about Swindon, can they win back-to-back promotions?
We have to be in with a chance. The board has backed the manager and allowed him to bring in some really outstanding new players, so we certainly have the depth now. We haven’t come up to this division to just sit here; we want to bounce straight out and into the Championship.
You’ve been linked with a few other clubs, so will you be part of it?
Yes. I’ve not been at all distracted by any of the speculation and I’m very happy here at Swindon, where I think we can earn another promotion. First of all though, we’ll give it our best shot at beating Stoke in the Capital One Cup.