AFC Fylde face an arduous 12-hour round trip to Eastbourne Borough tomorrow in the second round of the FA Trophy, but one man on the team coach is no stranger to long journeys.
Goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe doubles up as a long-distance lorry driver by day and has backed his team-mates to come through a testing period of away games starting tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s trip to the south coast comes at the expense of the scheduled league match against Lowestoft Town in Norfolk, which must now be rearranged.
Hinchliffe admits such journeys are “not ideal” but he praised the club for approaching away games in the right manner.
“At Fylde we’re trying to do things right,” he said. “We’re going to Eastbourne on Friday and staying over.
“Some lads will put a DVD on, some play cards and some lads are quite quiet. We’ve got a few TVs on the bus too and things that help pass the time.”
In his job, the keeper is used to long hours on the road away from home.
He added: “I’m mainly North West-based for my job. Sometimes we’ll go down as far as Warwickshire and all around Wales.”
The Fylde shot-stopper admits he prefers games at Kellamergh Park, even though his team-mates may not all agree.
“I know some people prefer to play away. I don’t know whether there’s less pressure away,” he said..
“The attendances at Kellamergh Park are getting better. The club are putting themselves about in the right way in the media.
“ There are a lot more young people at the games than when I first joined four years ago and the fanbase is slowly building.”
Even though Fylde now face a Tuesday night trek to Lowestoft, they have at least avoided the same fate at Eastbourne after their replay with Skelmersdale finally went ahead after three postponements on Wednesday, when Salford’s AJ Bell Stadium stepped in to host the tie which the Coasters won 4-0.
Hinchliffe explained: “It was a massive relief. Had it been called off again, we’d be playing it on Saturday and that would have meant Eastbourne next Tuesday night if we’d won.
“When you’re at a part-time club, lads would have had to take days off work, which hits people in different ways.
“To get the game on at a place like Salford was really great. The pitch suited us a lot more than it would have done at Skem.”
Fylde’s cup progress has left them with another league game to reschedule in a hectic fixture list but Hinchliffe believes the club is well-equipped to cope.
“Chall (manager Dave Challinor) has done everything right,” he said. “We had struggled with injuries but we have almost everyone back fit now. Going into a run of games every Saturday and Tuesday, I think we’re in a better position than we have been all season.”
Hinchliffe may well be a spectator at Eastbourne, if Challinor continues his policy of selecting understudy Matt Urwin in cup-ties.
“Matt’s a great lad,” said the Fylde number one. “He’s a very, very good keeper. He’s only young and he’s good enough to play in a higher league.
“ There is competition between us but we’re both here to get this team promoted and go as far as we can in all competitions.”
Manager Challinor was relieved to get the Skem match out of the way and grateful to club owner David Haythornthwaite, who used Fylde’s £5,000 prize money to pay for the rental of the AJ Bell Stadium.
Challinor said: “The 4-0 result possibly makes the game look more comfortable than it was. I thought we could have done more first half, and the way we were playing I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had let Skem back into the game. “We were a bit too open, but when we got playing we set up some really good opportunities and got our just deserts in the end.
“We were slightly careless in possession at times and on another day that can come back to haunt you, as it did in the original tie (the 4-4 draw at Kellamergh Park a month ago). Once we got the second and third goals it knocked the stuffing out of Skem.”
Challinor hailed hat-trick hero Danny Rowe but added a warning to his fellow attackers.
“Danny Rowe is flying at the moment with his goalscoring but we need others to start pitching in too,” he said.
“We have now given ourselves the best possible chance to go and win on Saturday in Eastbourne.
“We are potentially now just four wins from a Wembley final.”
DANIEL AGNEW and CHRIS COUGHLIN