The sentimental magic of the FA Cup's third round gave way to good old-fashioned fighting talk yesterday when Johnson Hippolyte, the manager of Ryman League side Yeading, said that the shaky form of Newcastle United defender the Titus Bramble had given his part-timers cause for hope in their tie tomorrow.
After a week of basking in the brief fame of drawing one of the Premiership's big beasts, Yeading and Conference side Exeter City - who play Manchester United at Old Trafford - yesterday got down to the serious business of preparation. In the case of Hippolyte, 40, a marble mason, it was a chance to probe the psyche of his Premiership opponents who, under new manager Graeme Souness are seeking only their second victory in 10 games.
It was Bramble, 23, a £4.5m signing from Ipswich Town in 2002, and one of the band of young Newcastle players regarded as occasionally too fond of their celebrity lifestyles, who Hippolyte targeted.
"No disrespect to him but the boy's having a nightmare. He's got the Press and the supporters on his back and he's playing very nervously at the moment. I watched him twice recently at Newcastle and he's not having the best of times," he said.
Yeading have spent much of the build-up to the biggest game of their lives reading comparisons between their humble professions and the multi-millionaire lifestyles of Newcastle's stars, but Hippolyte has told his side of decorators and plasterers to put their awe aside. Even if that means that his defender Marc Leach does not get to exchange shirts at Loftus Road tomorrow with his hero Alan Shearer, who is still struggling with injury.
"I'm relieved if Shearer doesn't play," Hippolyte said. "I don't care what Leachy wants. He can meet Shearer in the bar. Sure, it would be nice for them to say they'd played against Alan Shearer, that's what the FA Cup is about, but not from my point of view. I hope he puts a team of kids out.
It might be considered bad luck but Hippolyte's team have accepted a £15,000 sponsorship deal with the same tabloid newspaper that backed Conference side Farnborough before their 5-1 defeat to Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup two years ago. But unlike the Hampshire side, who could afford to spend part of their preparation in southern Spain's La Manga resort, Yeading will use their £300,000 share of television fees and gate receipts to safeguard their future.
The same is likely to apply to Exeter City who yesterday flew from the south west to Manchester, courtesy of sponsors flybe.com, to prepare at Bolton Wanderers' Euxton training ground. The facility had been made available to them by Sam Allardyce and, after training there, director of football Steve Perryman also organised a tour of Old Trafford for the squad.
"This is Manchester United - top, top stuff so we can't worry about them," Perryman said.
"There are too many things to worry about. We have to worry about ourselves and make sure we are as right as we can be. No razzmatazz, no predictions and no glamour - just pure honest football.
"I was in the Tottenham team that beat Exeter 2-0 at White Hart Lane in the FA Cup in March 1981. They had a big following. You couldn't hear yourself for their bloody songs and we were lucky on the day.
"Peter Shreeves said to me if we had got Exeter to a replay we would have been delighted because we didn't play on the day."
Instead of joining the main Old Trafford tour that is open to the public, the Exeter players and staff were given their own private tour with a guide. They saw the dressing rooms, museum and the stadium megastore as well as the players' lounge. Unfortunately it will be the last glimpse they get of the cramped lounge - famously the room where David Beckham first set eyes on his wife Victoria - as it was ruled out of bounds to opposition players a few years ago by club captain Roy Keane.
Scunthorpe's manager Brian Laws has an equally daunting task when he takes his League Two side to face the Premiership leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Portugal's equivalent of the FA Cup was the only competition Jose Mourinho did not win in 2004 after his Porto side were beaten in the final by Benfica. "We are not going into this game to have a jolly up, we are taking it seriously, we're not going just for a day out," Laws said. "We will be professional because a heavy defeat could be damaging for our league campaign."
When Stoke City visit Arsenal, there will be a return home for Islington-born John Halls, 22, who was rejected by the Premiership champions as a schoolboy but still stays in contact with former team-mate Ashley Cole. "I'll be looking to impress on Sunday," Halls said, "and to some extent, it will be about proving Arsène Wenger wrong too."
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