Smith hoping Crawley put on a good show

Crawley Town midfielder Ben Smith is hopeful that the non-league high-fliers can put on a good show and highlight the standard of football in the fifth tier against Manchester United in the FA Cup Fifth Round on Saturday.

However, he is wary that past performances of Conference clubs against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils could work against their namesakes from the Broadfield Stadium.

Manchester United’s last two FA Cup meetings with non-league opposition – against Exeter in 2005 and Burton Albion a year later – have ended goalless, with United going on to win the respective replays.

NEWS: Ferguson - Crawley tie great for FA Cup

And as a result, former Yeovil and Hereford playmaker Smith believes that may cause Ferguson to field a stronger side against Steve Evans’ men.

“That may well work against us as Sir Alex knows what quality there is in the lower leagues and he was at Wrexham on Tuesday so he’s not taking us lightly and showing us a lot of respect. He may even put out a stronger team than he would have previously, knowing the results that they’ve had against Exeter and Burton in the past.” Smith exclusively told FourFourTwo.

“Irrespective of the result, the important thing for us is just to put on a good show and show people around the country what we’re capable of and the amount of quality there is in the lower leagues. There’s a lot of good players in the Conference, which has been shown in the last few years when players have gone on to have good careers in the Football League. If we can do ourselves justice for Crawley Town and for the Blue Square Bet Premier then we’ll be happy, whatever the score.”

Crawley have recorded two goalless draws away at Kettering and Wrexham and a 3-2 home victory – also against Wrexham due to a fixture backlog – since the draw was made, pitting Town against the might of United.

Smith concedes that the mouthwatering tie has been nagging at the back of the players’ minds, and that a return of five points from the their three league games – leaving them three points behind league leaders AFC Wimbledon with four games in hand – is satisfactory.

“We’ve tried as much as we can to keep it out of our heads, but for most, if not all, of the players it’s going to be the biggest game of our careers,” he said. “I think we’ve given it our full attention when we’ve played the games and we’re relatively happy to have come through that spell unbeaten.”

With a Champions League trip to Marseille on the horizon for Ferguson’s men, how strong a line-up the Scot will field against Crawley remains to be seen, with the likes of Darron Gibson, Bebe and Javier Hernandez expected to feature.

NEWS: Man United to field strong side v Crawley

In an ideal world, Smith says he would love to be able to pit his wits against Old Trafford icons Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. But the West Ham-supporting playmaker would more-than-settle for going toe-to-toe with former Hammer Michael Carrick.

“I’d love to play against Scholes and Giggs. For someone of my age who has grown up with them over the last 15 years, they’ve been two of the best midfielders since the Premier League began. To be able to play at the level they have for so long and still be the best is just testament to how well they look after themselves.

“I’m also a big fan of Michael Carrick. Being a West Ham fan, I’ve always admired the way he plays, always got his head up and available for the ball. To play against someone like that would be great. Even at my age it’s great to test yourself against these players and see how much better than you they are. You try to take bits from their game that you think would help yourself.”

And the 32-year-old is not overly concerned with which player’s shirt he gets his hands on at full-time. “Giggs, Scholes or Carrick’s shirts would be nice. But whoever you get they’re all going to be internationals, and if they’re young players they may not be household names now but in four or five years they could be one of the best in Europe or the world."

Smith began his career at Arsenal before going to make more than a century of league appearances for both Yeovil and Hereford. But despite turning out for the Gunners’ youth team on multiple occasions, Saturday will only be the second time he has faced Manchester United.

“When I was in the Arsenal youth team it was more regional so you’d only play London teams unless it was in the cup,” he said. “I played against them once in a friendly for Yeovil but it was only a very young United side and we won about 5-2. Unfortunately I don’t think United will have many 16-year-olds playing on Saturday!”

Crawley’s vast expenditure has been well documented – the Red Devils shelled out more on transfer fees last summer than every League 2 club combined - as they bid to reach the Football League for the first time.

But for Smith, who had already spent a season with Town prior to the mass investment – he is just happy to be playing with good players week in, week out.

“From my perspective I was at the club last year when there wasn’t a great deal of investment and we were playing in front of 7-800 fans every week,” he said. “We’ve signed a lot of good players and personally that’s great for me to be playing with good players. If you’re in a good team it makes your job a lot easier. I’ve been here along with two or three other players from before the investment came in so I appreciate it even more.”

The midfielder has past first-hand experience of a non-league club splashing the cash to try and reach the Football League, having joined Weymouth’s ambitious project in 2006 before leaving a year later as the Terras ran into huge financial problems.

But, so far, Smith insists there have been no signs of Crawley’s plans following a similar pattern.

“You always have that worry as a lower league player, but you can only take people on face value and everything that we’ve been told so far has been true. The club have signed players, we always get paid on time each month so as far as I’m concerned I take people on their word and our owners have been good as gold.

“We’ve been lucky enough to go on a training camp to Portugal last week and the money made from the FA Cup run should stand the club in good stead for years to come. Plus, the investment is working because the crowds are up an unbelievable amount. The last home game we had was around 3,300, whereas last year the average gate was around 1,000-1,100. So the club, while it may not be funding itself at the moment, it will do in the future if we can keep expanding the fanbase.”

By Gregg Davies