LONG Melford manager Jason Maher wants every member of his squad to play their way into his Suffolk Premier Cup semi-final line-up – and in doing so help them climb the league table.
The Villagers needed penalties to overcome Suffolk and Ipswich League Senior Division side Achilles on Saturday, but now have six weeks from Saturday before seeing if they can take the last step to their first Portman Road final in eight years.
And with Melford having only won one of their last seven games in the Ridgeons First Division (a 3-1 success over strugglers Cornard United), Maher is hoping the cup win can provide a fillip to their league form, starting at home to Ipswich Wanderers on Saturday (3pm).
“They have picked up reasonably well under new management and they will be a difficult test but the fixtures we have got coming up, with respect to those teams, are all winnable games,” said Maher, who heavily criticised the decision to send off defender Gareth Thomas with two yellow cards on Saturday.
“I am hoping everyone wants a chance to play in that semi-final and that that can spur them on to get back to winning ways in the league,”
Prolific Villagers striker Jamie Williams (eight goals in 14 games in a spell last season) made his return in a Melford shirt in the 1-1 extra-time draw the home side won 5-3 on penalties and Maher was delighted to have the former Halstead Town and Redbridge striker back in black-and-white.
He said: “We tried to get him earlier in the season but he was at Redbridge and getting first team football but when we heard he was available we moved quickly and he wasn’t cup-tied.”
Of the cup win itself, the Stoneylands boss revealed his homework of watching Achilles in an SIL cup shootout and carefully noting down which way each kicker went, paid off with Wood able to guess right every time, stopping one kick and nearly saving twice.
“It was a tough game Saturday but I am overjoyed really,” Maher said. “It was a great sense of relief at the end that we got through and a great sense of joy. Penalties is probably the best way to win if you win or the worst way if you lose.
“We learned our lesson from the last time against Team Bury and to be fair to the lads that took them they were excellent penalties and the big man (Paul Wood) came good with a big save.”
He added he has no preference over who they play in the semi-final, but admits Ruel Fox’s Whitton United would be the toughest draw.
Top scorer Dan Cann (hamstring) will be back in the squad on Saturday after injury.