By Tony Leighton
A packed and rocking Ricoh Arena will not intimidate Crewe Alexandra's young team, insists manager Steve Davis, as he prepares to send his players out to face glory-hungry Coventry City in what promises to be an intense atmosphere in the first leg of their Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Section Final.
A full house is expected and home manager Mark Robins has urged the fans to be, "100 per cent partisan," as the Sky Blues look to build a formidable first leg lead to give themselves the best possible chance of reaching Wembley for the first time since their famous 1987 FA Cup final triumph over Tottenham Hotspur.
While the former Premier League club have not been to Wembley for more than a quarter of a century, however, the Railwaymen are in sight of a return to the national stadium after less than 12 months following their League 2 Play-Off Final win against Cheltenham Town at the end of last season.
"We want to get to Wembley again," said Davis, "and playing in front of a virtually capacity crowd [the Ricoh holds over 32,000] I see as a massive challenge and so will the players. They have to rise to that challenge, but they won't be overawed and they're looking forward to it.
"Games like this are the reason why you're a professional footballer. In terms of atmosphere, the pressure will be as much on Coventry as on us. When you've got a big crowd behind you it can be a test. The atmosphere can spur us on - we've got to be mentally strong, but we'll go out to attack and enjoy the occasion."
Davis and his team enjoyed the last occasion on which they met Coventry, a 1-0 home win back in September, as Crewe began to establish themselves in npower League 1 while the Sky Blues were trying to get used to life in the third tier after spending the previous 48 years in either the top or second division.
The Ricoh Arena outfit made a fitful start to the campaign but have improved significantly since Robins took over and are now just a single point below the Play-Off places. But Crewe are only four points behind them and have two games in hand, so the two-leg area final looks to be evenly balanced.
Davis said: "I've looked at the form guides and in the last six games we've got exactly the same form as Coventry. But they are a much better team than when we played them early in the season and they'll be favourites. They won't be fearful of playing Crewe, but there'll be no fear from us either.
"The lads have worked hard to get into this position and they are only two games away from another opportunity to play at Wembley. After the Play-Off Final last May they were saying how they'd love to get to Wembley again, but they were also thinking they may or may not do so during the rest of their careers.
"So they're fortunate that they've got the opportunity, not many months later, to do it all again. We're going to have to make sure that we're spot on in this first leg, because we could be out of the tie if we don't perform well. But hopefully over the two legs we'll be good enough to get through to the Final."
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