‘I’m thankful we were smacked in the face twice’ – US Portsmouth boss Glenn Turnbull on his side’s extraordinary FA Vase run
Glenn Turnbull will send his US Portsmouth players into the biggest game of their lives thankful that they were ‘punched in the face’ twice in the space of a few weeks last summer.
The Wessex League 1 underdogs host higher division Binfield for the right to step out at Wembley in the FA Vase final on May 29.
Turnbull believes two wake-up calls before the Vase run even started have been key to getting this far.
Last August, US were well beaten in a pre-season friendly at Hereford-based Westfields, a club who had remained unbeaten in 26 Hellenic Premier games in 2019/20.
Westfields are in the same division as Flackwell Heath, who Us defeated last weekend in the Vase quarter-finals, and Binfield.
Then, in their opening Wessex game of 2020/21, US were surprisingly beaten 4-3 at Laverstock & Ford - the only time in Turnbull’s 57 games in charge they had conceded more than three goals.
‘I joke that the players are still shaking from the (Westfields) game, but it stood us in good stead,’ said Turnbull. ‘We lost 3-1 but Westfields were in second gear for 60 minutes.
‘Had we not had that game at Westfields, when we played Christchurch and Tavistock (in the Vase fourth and fifth rounds) we could have come unstuck. But we adapted and we learned.
‘I was thinking about this the other day, about moments in time on the journey which have helped us.
‘The Westfields game was one, and another was a few weeks later at Laverstock.
‘We’d had a good pre-season, beaten Baffins, beaten Horndean, beaten Cowes - all Wessex Premier sides. We went to Laverstock thinking we only had to turn up.
‘We lost 4-3 and it could have been more than that.
‘Those two defeats weren’t just shots across our bows, they were a proper smack in the face.
‘As Mike Tyson once said, you don’t know how good you are until you’ve been punched in the face.
‘To continue the boxing analogy, we got knocked down twice at Westfields and Laverstock, but we got back up again and those games have stood us in good stead.’
Westfields, who lost 2-0 to Binfield last September, have helped US out with a scouting report on the side that stand between them and an astonishing Wembley appearance.
‘But Binfield will have done the same with us,’ Turnbull acknowledged. ‘You don’t get this far and expect to fly under the radar any more.
‘Even before (Horndean boss) Michael Birmingham had messaged me last weekend to say ‘well done’, he’d been contacted by Binfield asking for a scouting report on us.
‘In true Birmy style he told them to **** off, saying ‘my son plays for them, I know who I’ll be supporting!’’
Turnbull knew Flackwell had players signed on from higher division clubs in their team last weekend, but didn’t tell his squad for fear it might intimidate them.
Binfield will field striker Liam Ferdinand, brought in from step 3 club Harrow Borough and who hit a Vase hat-trick at Long Eaton last weekend.
But US, as usual, will try and play the same way they always do.
‘We’ve played the same way in my two years in charge,’ said Turnbull. ‘I’m not a tactical genius that can change things week in week out and use an element of surprise.
‘We will hope to play the way we can. If it’s good enough it’s good enough, if it’s not …
‘Flackwell were the best side we’ve played so far, but there were periods when we could play our stuff. Hopefully that will be the same on Saturday.
‘We kept the info from the players last weekend, but it’s out there about Binfield. Yet we will tell the players ‘you deserve to be in amongst players of that calibre - you are in the semi-finals for a reason’.
Though Binfield will undoubtedly provide strong opposition, they only play one tier higher than US, and Turnbull’s men have beaten six step 5 clubs already in Vase action this term.
‘The beauty of this competition is that you haven’t got Man City playing Torquay, it’s only step 5 and step 6 clubs,’ he explained. ‘We might be a step 6 club in name, but we’d like to think we’d be a pretty good step 5 side.
‘Once we’ve done all our prep, we just have to focus on the job in hand. Yesterday is yesterday and tomorrow is tomorrow. We have to live in the now.’
Turnbull added: ‘It’s always been one of my biggest fears that we will freeze, and that’s still a fear for Saturday.
‘For the last few weeks I’ve been saying ‘this is the biggest game of our lives’ and now this really is the biggest - for all of us, myself, Fraser, Barto, the club.
‘I will never get another opportunity like this to lead a side out at Wembley.’
Only one Portsmouth area non-league club has ever reached a national cup final, Gosport Borough losing to Cambridge United in the 2013/14 FA Trophy showpiece.
Mick Catlin - who was boss of AFC Portchester when US began their Vase run by claiming a shock win last October - was Borough’s assistant manager at the time.
‘I’ve spoken to Cats in recent weeks and he’s been really helpful and supportive,’ said Turnbull.
‘I will lean on him in the next few weeks if I have to, as he’s been there and done it and I haven’t.
‘As I say, I don’t think we’ll get another opportunity like this. It might not be everything, but it’s not far off.’