Saunders prepared for battle
Michael Bailey Lowestoft Town captain Marcus Saunders admitted there was a strange atmosphere in the squad after the Blues earned a place in the FA Vase final at Wembley.
Lowestoft Town captain Marcus Saunders admitted there was a strange atmosphere in the squad after the Blues earned a place in the FA Vase final at Wembley.
Knowing they had a four goal semi-final cushion over Whitley Bay from the first leg at Crown Meadow, Town were almost blown away as their impressive hosts blitzed three goals in the first 20 minutes at Hillheads.
But from early bewilderment, the Lowestoft players managed to regroup and by the time the final whistle arrived, it was welcomed by an invasion of Trawler Boys onto the pitch and those early fears were forgotten - almost.
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“We went back to the hotel and all had one drink. A lot of people thought we'd have gone crazy, but we were all so emotionally drained, it was an eerie feeling after the game,” said Saunders, who works in the building trade. “If it had been 0-0 or 1-0 it would've been different because of the scoreline, but we were absolutely knackered.”
As the 32-year-old acknowledged, it was a nightmare start to such a crucial game for Lowestoft, who could only stand by and watch as Whitley looked a shadow of the poor side that performed in Suffolk seven days earlier.
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“It was the first time I'd ever wanted the ground to swallow me up on a football pitch. That's not very good coming from the captain, I know.
“When we got in at half-time, a lot of us had our heads down but someone - I don't remember who - turned round and said 'we're still winning 1-0; let's go out there and get our heads up', and we competed 10 times better in the second half.”
The second 45 minutes was comparatively comfortable for the Blues and with the history books showing Lowestoft as 4-3 semi-final victors, the club's FA Vase dream moves on to its final chapter, which will be staged at the world's most famous football stadium.
“I have played at some decent grounds, such as Anfield and Carrow Road, but I'd swap all of them to play at Wembley and hopefully, barring injury and suspension, I'll be playing there - just like all the lads will be hoping they will,” said Saunders.
The skipper admitted he may take some time over the next six weeks, to get his head around the expected size of the Wembley crowd awaiting both teams on May 11.
“They're expecting a big crowd; 2,000 was big enough, but in front of around 30,000? And I thought Whitley Bay was nerve-racking.
“Lowestoft will be closed for the day. I think half of Gorleston and Yarmouth will be shut as well. I live in Gorleston and every other person is shouting well done. Everyone seems to know what's happening and I'm feeling really proud.
“It's great to get so many good wishes from people, but personally I can't believe it. This sort of thing just doesn't happen and to go and beat the favourites, it's out of this world. We're going to Wembley and nothing can change that.”