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Jim Gannon laments absence of fans as Stockport look to strike Hammers blow

Soccer – Blue Square Premier League – Stockport County v Barrow – Edgeley Park
(Image credit: Dave Thompson)

Stockport manager Jim Gannon insists the magic of the FA Cup is still alive this season although he accepts the visit of West Ham on Monday night will be a poorer spectacle without fans in attendance.

The Vanarama National League Hatters were rewarded for reaching the third round of the competition for the first time since 2007 with a home tie against a side currently sitting in the top half of the Premier League standings.

When the draw was made, there was hope that County might be allowed to have some supporters at Edgeley Park, but the rapid rise in coronavirus cases and subsequent lockdown in England has emphatically ruled out that prospect.

While Gannon lamented the fixture taking place behind closed doors, he believes his side’s progress to this stage, beating League One Rochdale en route, shows the competition still has the capacity to surprise.

“Us going to Rochdale (and winning) and several other fixtures, and teams from non-league in the third round draw, the magic is still there,” Gannon, a boyhood West Ham fan, said.

“For us players and managers to have these experiences is tremendous but it’s a lament of everybody that the fans can’t be there.

“When this draw was made, I was delighted we were at home because there was a chink of light that tier three might move to tier two and we might have 2,000 fans which would have felt like 10,000 at Edgeley Park for such a game.

“I’ve got tremendous memories of these games and they’re all enhanced by the fans and the connection of the fans. It will be slightly different now because they’ll be sat at home.

“We could have done with them against a team as strong as West Ham but I’m sure in spirit they’ll be behind us on Monday night.”

Gannon reported a near clean bill of health for the game, with midfielder Harvey Gilmour the only doubt because of a knee injury, but he admitted a slight concern at his entire squad being tested for coronavirus on Friday.

While none of his players have developed any symptoms, Gannon has watched with horror at what has unfolded at Aston Villa and Derby – both of whom will field youth teams because of a Covid-19 outbreak among the senior ranks.

“Our biggest fear is that we’ve all been tested, we’re all asymptomatic, we’re all feeling perfectly fine but you just don’t know what the results will bring,” Gannon said.

“If you see the carnage that’s created in other games like Derby and Aston Villa, fingers crossed that we don’t lose one or two players who are perfectly fit and feeling no symptoms because they test positive.”