HARTLEPOOL FC have taken inspiration from the FA Cup exploits of Bradford City as they try to cause a major upset of their own in the Durham Challenge Cup tomorrow.
The Wearside League oufit are to host Northern League Division One side Shildon in the quarter-finals of the competition as they look to bridge a two-division gap again.
Bradford’s incredible 4-2 FA Cup win at Chelsea last month filled them with the belief that anything is possible, as did their own 2-0 victory over Billingham Synthonia in the last round.
However, Shildon, sixth in their league, are certain to provide a tougher test altogether.
They are arguably the favourites to win promotion out of the Northern League this season, and have a number of high-profile players.
Some of the recent results in the FA Cup, though, have shown that football often throws up the unexpected, and Chris Birkbeck – who took over as part of a management team with Terry Hill at Hartlepool in October – is looking forward to the challenge.
He told SportMail: “Shildon is a totally different ball game for us, as virtually every one of their players has been at a professional club.
“It’s going to be a tough day for us against a huge club, but we’re looking forward to it.
“When you look at the FA Cup and some of the shocks in that competition, like Bradford’s win, you realise anything is possible in football.
“If we were to beat Shildon, it would probably be an even bigger shock than Bradford beating Chelsea.
“It’s a different kettle of fish at our level, as Bradford’s squad are all professional footballers, whereas our players don’t get paid to play, but there will be no pressure on us at all. We’re certainly not scared of them.”
Birkbeck feels that, no matter what happens in tomorrow’s 1.30pm kick-off at Grayfields Enclosure, it will show how far Hartlepool have come in a short space of time.
He added: “All the lads are looking forward to testing themselves against one of the best Northern League clubs.
“It will also show us how far we have come since October, because this is a brand new team. In the space of four months, it will show how far we have come.
“I’m confident we will create chances, but it’s just about whether we take them and whether we can keep them out at the other end. It would be nice to get to the semi-finals, but that’s a huge ask.
“We will need to perform at our maximum, and probably hope Shildon have a bit of an off day, but we know that anything is possible in football.”
Kick-off is at 1.30pm, while food and drink will be served at the clubhouse from noon.