Football / Coca-Cola Cup: McHale's late men stirring up the seaside spirit: Guy Hodgson talks to the manager with a mission to arrest Arsenal's ambitions in the Coca-Cola Cup at Scarborough tonight

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The Independent Online
PATIENCE has been a requirement at Scarborough these past two months. Since 11 November they have been straining to extend a run that has taken them to their furthest point in the Coca- Cola Cup, the fourth round, only for replays, the weather and even the Anglo-Italian Cup to intrude on their plans. But then they have a penchant for leaving things late.

Take their second-round match against Premier League Coventry City. With 18 minutes remaining, the underdogs were still snapping away at a 2-0 deficit from the first leg and even their manager, Ray McHale, had given up the tie as useful experience paid for by a defeat. By full-time, however, they had won 3-2.

In the next round at Plymouth they earned a replay with an 87th- minute goal from John Ashdjian, and even on Saturday they defeated Torquay 3-1 thanks to two goals in the last eight minutes.

The supporters love it; what it does to the manager's blood pressure does not bear contemplating.

'By necessity we are a young side, we have to sell our more experienced players to survive. The big advantage it brings is enthusiasm. Our great asset is that our players never know when they are beaten. They run and chase when other teams would have given up.'

Tonight they will be chasing after an Arsenal team, who arrive at the McCain Stadium relieved of the weight a defeat by GM Vauxhall Conference Yeovil in the FA Cup on Saturday would have brought, and who have a growing awareness that the Coca-Cola Cup offers their best opportunity for honours this season. McHale uses the 'we haven't a hope if they play as they can' language traditionally employed by Davids everywhere, while praying the one- in-a-hundred shock occurs.

'Against Coventry I expected us to go out even though I fancied we might win the home leg. At half-time I told them to make sure they didn't let the occasion pass them by. I remember, when I was a player, we met teams from higher divisions and sometimes you'd come off thinking 'I didn't do anything'. They excelled that night, exceeded all expectation, and I will press home the same message against Arsenal.'

McHale's playing career took him on a tour of 10 clubs including Sheffield United, Swindon and Scarborough, before he became manager at non-League Guiseley. Colin Morris employed him as assistant manager at Scarborough, and when Morris was dismissed he took over as manager.

It is not one of the more cushy numbers in the Football League. Morris has no assistant and only a youth-team coach to supplement his own work.

The current side has an average age of 22 and cost only pounds 10,000 to build, nine free transfers and pounds 5,000 each for Paul Mudd and Simon Thompson. When away matches are within 80 miles they go by car, the kit in McHale's boot.

'Before the season starts we are going to lose pounds 150,000 a year so we survive by selling players,' McHale said. 'A good run in the cups helps but inevitably we have to get rid of somebody. At least we are in the black now, when I arrived we were pounds 500,000 in debt.'

The most valuable commodity in McHale's current display is Darren Foreman, one of only two Scarborough players with 100 League appearances behind him. Foreman heads the Third Division scorers with 18 goals and has 21 in all competitions. 'I thought he was a good player at Barnsley, but couldn't afford the pounds 80,000 Crewe paid for him. When he was offered as a free transfer we snapped him up. He's a natural scorer in the Allan Clarke mould. He's not big, he just has a natural talent for getting goals.'

Whether Foreman will prosper against Arsenal will be witnessed by a crowd of around 7,000. The Scarborough portion of the tickets was sold within a day, raising eyebrows even among locals. 'It is the biggest match in the club's history,' McHale said, 'but the enthusiasm has been a shock.

'This is a wonderful town, but people generally come here to retire. They bring their support, say of Barnsley or Doncaster, with them and we are forgotten. It's been a pleasant surprise how much interest there's been in this match.'

The surprise will be complete if Scarborough win tonight. Early goals are not anticipated.

(Photograph omitted)

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