HARTLEPOOL FC are confident they can bridge a two-division gap when they take on Billingham Synthonia in a crucial derby game on Saturday.
The two sides are set to clash in the second round of the Durham Challenge Cup at Hartlepool’s Grayfields Enclosure ground.
Hartlepool, sitting 11th in the Wearside League, will go into the match as underdogs against a Synthonia side who are two tiers above them, in 19th in Northern League Division One.
However, they are undaunted by the challenge, with the new management team, which was appointed in late October, “quietly confident” of causing an upset.
Terry Hill and Chris Birkbeck, who were in charge at Seaton Carew before making the switch to Hartlepool, have taken on Synthonia twice in the recent past in the same competition.
And Birkbeck is confident that, having come close to beating them twice, it can be third time lucky when Hartlepool face them.
He told MailSport: “We played them with Seaton twice in previous years at this stage, and on both occasions went 2-0 up before they came back to beat us.
“It should be a good game for us, and we’re quietly confident going into it.
“We’ve got some really good players who could play higher than they are at the moment, but are staying loyal to us.
“Some of them have been in the Northern League before, but like playing with their mates instead of travelling all over.
“We are good going forward and have got players who will trouble any team, so it’s just a question of whether we can keep them out at the other end.
“It will also be a question of how good they are. They have struggled a bit this season, but their results have picked up lately so it will be an interesting game.”
Synthonia are battling relegation from the second tier of the Northern League, but two straight wins have made their position a whole lot healthier.
In the last round of the competition, they beat Hill and Birkbeck’s former club, Seaton Carew, 11-0 in the aftermath of their departure.
However, Hartlepool are not reading anything into that scoreline, although they know they will have to be at their best if they are to have a chance of making it into the next round.
Birkbeck added: “We left two weeks before that game, and when a new manager comes in, some players inevitably leave. We won’t read anything into that result.
“We will have to be at our maximum to beat them, and hopefully they have an off day.
“We will be the massive underdogs and we know that, but we want to cause an upset.
“We don’t want to let ourselves down and have any regrets after the game, so we have to make sure they know they are in a game.”
Hartlepool drew with Easington Colliery on Saturday, one of just two games they have played in the last month.
And Birkbeck is hoping that lack of match action does not cost them.
He said: “The game has come straight after Christmas, but thankfully we had a game against Easington on Saturday when we were able to blow the cobwebs away.
“They will have had more fixtures than us over Christmas, though, so I think it will be a question of how fit we are, really.
“We have got a couple of lads carrying knocks, but hopefully they will be fit enough to play.
“Synthonia have had a good Christmas, but fingers crossed they might under-estimate us and give some of their fringe players a chance.”
A victory would give a huge boost to everyone at Hartlepool, who got to this stage of the competition by beating Silksworth CW on penalties in the last round.
Birkbeck added: “Hopefully we can turn them over. There are some big teams left in it, including them, and it all improves our profile as a club.
“Our goalkeeper was the hero in the last round, as he saved a penalty.
“We knew how important it was for the club, as you get a little bit more money the further you progress.
“We didn’t tell the lads that, because we didn’t want to put them under any added pressure, but it was great for us to win that and set up this tie.”
Kick-off is at 1.30pm at Grayfields Enclosure, while the clubhouse will be open from midday, serving food and drink.
Admission prices are £4, and £2 for concessions.