09:00AM, Saturday 01 December 2018
Sunday’s FA Cup second round clash with League 1 Gillingham FC should be a once in a lifetime occasion, says Neil Baker.
But the Rebels have been here before, just 12 months ago in fact, when they were beaten 4-0 by Rochdale at Arbour Park.
And the Rebels’ management team are hoping they and the squad have learned lessons from it that they can use to good effect on Sunday afternoon (2pm kick-off).
On that occasion Baker admits the club were consumed by the hype of the occasion, and distracted by the televised third round draw, held at the club just minutes before kick-off.
This year’s preparations have been less intrusive and, while Baker and joint manager Jon Underwood hope the players will be in a better frame of mind for the clash, they know it's going to be really tough.
“It’s a massive game for the club,” said Baker. “In some ways it’s even bigger than last year, because Gillingham are local whereas Rochdale are from the Manchester area.
“I hope we’ve learned a bit from last season too. I think the occasion, with the third round draw being held and the BT Sport TV cameras being here, took over a bit.
“None of us had been involved in that sort of thing before, but there’s not been as much of a build-up this time. There will be fewer distractions but the boys will still need to be at their utmost best to get anything from the game.”
The clash won’t go completely under the radar, with the BBC screening extended highlights of the match, but Slough should be better prepared for their moment in the spotlight. Baker knows it will be extremely difficult for Slough to bridge the gap to The Gills, currently 18th in League 1, but he’s dreaming of pulling off a cup shock, and what could lie ahead in the third round.
“Gillingham have so many players who can hurt you,” he said. “They should be streets ahead of us and we’re under no illusions as to how tough it will be.
“But we have to take positives from watching the Haringey vs AFC Wimbledon game, which had a similar gap between the sides. They held them 0-0 until the 90th minute.”
The Gills come into the clash off the back of a confidence boosting 2-1 win at Bristol Rovers in mid-week, while the Rebels were knocked out of the FA Trophy at the weekend, losing 3-2 at home to Weston-super-Mare. But Baker admitted having a free week to focus on this match was a blessing in disguise.
“In some ways we were thinking about the FA Cup,” said Baker. “We didn’t want to draw against Weston and have to go there for a replay in mid-week. That would have been a nightmare in terms of our preparations.”
He added: “When you get past the first round you start to think about the third round and what could potentially happen. But it’s just as big for Gillingham to play Manchester United so they’ll be going all out for the win. We’re ready for them and are looking forward to it.
“I'd say it’s a once in a lifetime game if it wasn’t for the fact we reached this round last year.”
The Rebels will be without Guy Hollis and Ben Harris through suspension for Sunday’s tie, but have no injury concerns.
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All lines are currently blocked between London Paddington and Reading after a person was hit by a train between Maidenhead and Slough.