If conceding six goals against their closest rivals came as a shock to Manchester United, then wait until they step off the team coach at Aldershot Town's home at the Recreation Ground tonight. The recovery for Sir Alex Ferguson's team starts at a ground holding little more than 7,000 supporters, with terracing behind each goal and facilities to test the character of United's players two days after their humiliation against Manchester City.
They will also be facing a team that scored five themselves over the weekend, albeit in League Two at Dagenham & Redbridge.
The Aldershot manager, Dean Holdsworth, knows all about battling against the odds from his time in the "Crazy Gang" at Wimbledon and he believes the ingredients are there for a Carling Cup giant-killing.
"I don't know if our changing room is big enough to get all their players and staff in," said Holdsworth. "They might need a Portakabin out the back and it could be a bit of a reality check for them. But we won't be turning off the hot water. The Crazy Gang's not here."
Holdsworth describes Ferguson as "probably the greatest manager to have ever lived" and will invite his counterpart for a glass of wine after the tie. "It's Blue Nun from 1992 – a good year because I joined Wimbledon that year. Only kidding. I'll sort out a good bottle," said the 42-year-old.
But Holdsworth's respect for Ferguson has not prevented him from attempting mind games ahead of the fourth-round tie. His team will be wearing their away strip, rather than their red-and-blue colours, after enjoying success in white earlier in the competition. "Playing in the all-white kit is my superstitious thing," he said. "We've worn it in every round. I've got loads of superstitions. I salute magpies – I go mad when I see more than one."
Excitement over the tie has been growing. Last week the local newspaper printed a souvenir poster, and the local radio station is sending a reporter to Farnborough Airport to cover United's arrival today.
It is the biggest match of Holdsworth's managerial career following his time as a striker for Brentford and Bolton Wanderers as well as Wimbledon. He scored against United on the day they won their first Premier League title, in 1993, but admitted his mind was distracted after receiving a death threat on the eve of the clash.
"I scored a back-post header past Peter Schmeichel but the night before I got a call saying if I scored tomorrow, I'd be dead," he said. "I rang Sam Hammam [the Wimbledon chairman] and he told me it was him playing a prank. But when I scored I was still looking over my shoulder – I was so worried. Sam told me after it wasn't him – he'd just told me that to keep me calm."
After Wimbledon he went to Bolton where he played more than 150 times and learnt his managerial style from Sam Allardyce, who had his West Ham United team knocked out by Aldershot earlier in the competition.
"He taught me: 'If they're not good enough, get them fit enough'," said Holdsworth, who received a good-luck message from Allardyce ahead of the tie. "We've made huge steps. They asked me to bring the football back, a passing style. It's changed so much, on and off the pitch. We're moving in the right direction."
Progress for the Shots has come under the guidance of Kris Machala, their chairman, who took over the reins last April after remortgaging his house to invest. Nineteen years after they folded and reformed, Machala expects them to turn a profit this year.
"Our whole wage bill is £90,000 a month. The comparison is that Manchester United can pay £100,000 a week," said Machala. "But this match will put the Aldershot name on the map.
"You might say I'm not a typical chairman. We are not multimillionaires. I had to remortgage my house to put the money into the football club. It's a different situation and I'm here every day. It's not like [Chelsea owner Roman] Abramovich. He can put his money in and doesn't have to get involved in the day-to-day side of the operation. It's different. It's a small club, we have about six or seven staff."
Machala bemoaned the extra costs of hosting United: £18,000 for policing, splitting the revenue with United and giving the Football League their percentage. So there is an even bigger incentive to shock United as an away tie in the quarter-finals will be lucrative.
For the forward Danny Hylton, this is a chance to put himself in the shop window and then swap shirts with Michael Owen after the final whistle. "I'm going to man-mark him as soon as he comes here," he said.
Hylton is hoping United players are put off by the surroundings, adding: "Berbatov doesn't look like he's interested when he's playing in the Premier League, so what's he going to be like playing down here?
"Hopefully he'll have an off day. Hopefully 11 of them will have off days."Reuse content