Blackpool head coach Neil Critchley knows that an FA Cup upset against West Brom would be the highlight of a turbulent first year in management.
When the 42-year-old left his job as Liverpool’s Under-23s coach to take his first job in senior club football last March he could not have envisaged what would ensue.
Just two matches in to his new role the League One season was suspended – to be eventually cancelled – and Critchley was left wondering what lay ahead.
After a significant turnaround in playing staff he is still, barely five months into the season, trying to instil an identity at the club.
But a third round tie at home to Premier League strugglers West Brom gives Critchley the opportunity to test his methods against top-flight opposition and perhaps spring a surprise.
That sort of opportunity seemed a long way off back in March.
“It was horrendous for everyone. We were preparing to play Sunderland at home, which would have been a fantastic game with a big crowd, and I’d joined the previous week so I’d already had two games,” he told the PA news agency.
“The next few weeks I was like everyone else in the country, it was like ‘what’s going to happen next’ and it was an uncertain time for everyone.
“You didn’t get time to work with the existing group of players on the training pitch and we had 12 or 13 games left when the league was curtailed so I would have learned a lot about the players that were already at the club.
“Then we were having to make decisions (on players), taking advice from several people and watching a lot of previous games, from a little bit of the unknown.
“What that did give me time to do was watch a lot of football to prepare for whenever we were to come back, organise pre-season and do a lot of recruitment.
“We had a big turnaround in numbers within the squad in the summer. Now with that group we are developing our way of working and processes every day and trying to build an identity which we are going to be known for at Blackpool Football Club.
“I think we have done extremely well with that and if you have good people and you recruit good people then I think you always have a chance.
“I think we have so we are on the right lines. But it does present its difficulties.”
Blackpool was also the club Baggies boss Sam Allardyce got his break in full-time management with but, having already hinted he plans to rotate his squad, Critchley is hoping to register an upset.
“We are at home, it is the FA Cup and we have a chance to spring an upset,” added the Seasiders boss, whose club won the FA Cup in the famous Stanley Matthews final of 1953.
“We have history in this competition and we take it very seriously. It is an important game for us.
“We are not favourites to win but I was extremely excited when the third round draw was happening and we want to be in the hat for the fourth and fifth round come Monday night.
“There is always something riding on it, there is no game which is classed as a free hit.”
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