Steve Evans, the Crawley Town manager, was anticipating facing Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the next round of the FA Cup minutes after the final whistle against Torquay. Less than 24 hours later his wish had come true.
"The man from Govan against the man from Cambuslang," was how Evans billed it. "One is a Celtic fan and one is a Rangers fan."
The tie of the fifth round features two Red Devils, one from the top of the Premier League and the other from the Blue Square Premier League. "If you're Arsène Wenger or Alex McLeish you didn't want that draw, but we did," Evans added. "If there is any, any non-League club capable of beating Manchester United then it's Crawley Town. We have the best team at this level for a long time and we're more organised than other teams. It will take a miracle for that to happen, but miracles do happen."
Evans has hope of a miracle comes from the club investing heavily in their squad. United will be playing the team known as the non-League Manchester City.
Crawley's ambition was illustrated on the eve of their win at Plainmoor, with Evans revealing he came close to breaking the non-League transfer record again. "We walked away from a record non-League deal on Friday after we had agreed a fee with a club because we just didn't get the right kind of references about the player," Evans said. "We like to think we have identified the right type of players for our squad and not just in terms of their ability on the park but their character off it."
Evans, the 48-year-old former St Johnstone striker, was trying to explain how the club have a considered approach in the transfer market, despite their reputation. The current non-league transfer record was a fee of £275,000 to York City for Richard Brodie, who was on the bench at Plainmoor. Matt Tubbs, who scored the winner against Torquay, cost £70,000 and Sergio Torres also commanded a fee from Peterborough.
Co-owner Bruce Winfield and local colleagues took charge at the Broadfield Stadium in 2008, with some of the funds believed to also come from Hong Kong businessmen.
Captain Pablo Mills said: "I don't think there's any club in the Conference who'd turn down what's happened to us. We're there to be shot at and a lot of teams are going to be envious of what's happened to us. The club's turned around so quickly. You can't worry too much about what other people say. Money doesn't buy championships, it's the players that go out on the pitch every week, stick together and get the results."
Although Crawley are a non-League team they are a full-time outfit and their professional approach upset some onlookers. Chris Coleman, the ITV pundit, said they showed disrespect when assistant manager, Paul Raynor, refused to let groundstaff work on the penalty area during the warm-up. Torquay players then felt Crawley players were guilty of time-wasting and play-acting during the game as they protected their lead.
On top of flexing their muscles in the transfer market, they are becoming a team that some people love to hate, and the spending is unlikely to stop as the club attempt to earn promotion into League Two. AFC Wimbledon replaced them at the summit with their victory at Gateshead on Friday, but Crawley have four games in hand to close the two-point gap between the two clubs.
Evans admits an FA Cup run is stretching his squad, so he is looking to bolster numbers. "I might be asking the owners if we can spend some money because we can't fill a bench," he said. "We've given ourselves a mountain in terms of fixture congestion. They may say no but I'll ask."
Tubbs' winner against Torquay came six minutes from half-time, and he is getting swept away by Crawley's cup run, even though promotion is the priority. "It's OK to trot out the old clichés that the League is the bread and butter and promotion is our priority, and they are true," he said. "But as a kid you don't dream of growing up and playing in the league, you dream of playing and scoring in the FA Cup. I've done that and I'm really pleased for all the lads."
The 26-year-old forward then had a penalty saved, as did Craig McAllister when Crawley were awarded two spot-kicks in the second half. "Of course I am disappointed to have missed a penalty," Tubbs added. "But thankfully in the end it didn't cost us."
Chris Zebroski was dismissed for Torquay after receiving two yellow cards, as was Dean Howell for Crawley in a breathless second half.
Torquay United (4-5-1) Bevan; Robertson (Lathrope 87), Ellis, Branston, Nicholson; Mansell, O'Kane, Wroe (Kee 54), Stevens (Halpin 73) Zebroski; Benyon. Substitutes not used Rowe-Turner, Potter (gk), Oastler, Hemmings. Booked Branston, Ellis, Kee. Sending off Zebroski (61).
Crawley Town (4-3-3) Kuipers; Wilson, McFadzean, Mills, Howell; Smith (Hunt 88), Bulman, Torres; Tubbs (Brodie 90), McAllister, Cook (Rents 85). Substitutes not used Rusk, Napper, Shearer (gk). Booked Kuipers, Mills, McFadzean, Tubbs. Sending off Howell (83)
Man of the match Bevan
Referee D Deadman (Hertfordshire)
Fifth round draw
West Ham v Burnley
Manchester City or Notts County v Aston Villa
Stoke City v Brighton and Hove Albion
Birmingham City v Sheffield Wednesday
Leyton Orient v Arsenal
Chelsea or Everton v Reading
Manchester Utd v Crawley Town
Fulham v Bolton Wanderers or Wigan Athletic
Ties to be played 19/20 FebruaryReuse content