Battle Baptist Football Club is now eagerly anticipating its National Christian Cup semi-final after at one stage struggling to field a team.
The cup holders are set to make the long journey to Liverpool to face St Sebastians tomorrow (Saturday) with 13 players having at one stage been down to 10.
Speaking on Tuesday evening, Battle manager Gary Walsh said: “We were very concerned that we wouldn’t be able to put a squad together.
“We had the bare XI on Sunday and then the news came through that Tom (Saunders) was injured, but Finlay Garlick and Sam Loughman can now come with us so it all feels positive again today.
“The whole church have been praying over Tom’s injury so it’s a bit of an answer to prayer that we can put a side together.”
Battle will be missing around four regulars for the approximately 580-mile round trip, including key midfielder Glen Carrick and central defender Saunders, who picked up a groin strain in last weekend’s Hastings & District FA Intermediate Cup quarter-final win over Crowhurst.
“They are absolute stalwarts for the team, hardly missed a game all season,” continued Walsh. “They’re the backbone of our side and it’s hard to replace them, but what you do need to replace them with is the right kind of player.
“Sam Loughman will fill Tom’s position at centre-half. He’s been playing really well for the second team this year, and he’s a big, strong, quick player.
“We will have to play Trystan Mayhew in the centre of midfield as opposed to the right. He’s been scoring so many goals from the right-hand side and we will miss the goal threat that he has.
“The squad we’ve got is okay. We’ve got a couple of subs. It’s not going to be our strongest side, which is a bit of a shame because we really want to make a good fight of defending our title, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Battle have made a fine fist of their defence of the trophy they won at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic FC last May, so far, scoring five goals in each of the previous two rounds and conceding only one.
St Sebastians have played four matches to reach this stage and have scored double figures in two of them. Their goal tally across the four games stands at a whopping 36, although they only scraped through last weekend’s quarter-final 4-3.
“They’re new to the competition and they’ve been scoring lots of goals,” added Walsh. “Obviously they’ve got a good attack, but we’ve got a really good defensive record.
“I think we’ll have to do a lot of defending, get bodies behind the ball and be patient because we might not have quite as much possession as we’re used to.”
Battle are riding high at the top of the Macron East Sussex League Premier Division having won all of their seven matches in all competitions since the turn of the year, keeping five clean sheets along the way.
“To be drawn away in the semi-final is a huge disadvantage and when you have to travel this distance, inevitably there are going to be some players who can’t make that trip,” Walsh added.
“It is what it is and we have to go with the draw, but if we were to win, I think it would be even more satisfying than last year’s cup final and what a message that would send to all those other Liverpool teams.
“I do think we have to be seen as the underdogs. That’s not that I’m being at all negative about our prospects, but we’ve got the odds stacked against us.”
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