Wheatsheaf United will be looking to lift the Newark Alliance Willie Hall Memorial Trophy for the fourth time in six years on Sunday as the famous competition marks its 50-year history.
But they said they would go into the final at Newark Flowserve as underdogs against the holders and Notts Sunday Junior Cup winners, Newark Town, whose dreams of a treble ended last week.
Town picked up just one Premier Division point from three matches in six days to dash their title hopes.
Town manager Colin Rusby said that disappointment would make them more determined to retain the trophy they won for the first time a year ago as a Second Division club.
He insisted, however, his side were no longer favourites for the town’s biggest cup competition after the recent setbacks.
“We are very conscious of Wheatsheaf’s good record in the cup. We know they are a side capable of playing good football and who don’t give up,” he said.
“It is no surprise to me that they are in the final of the biggest cup.
“We are not taking anything for granted. We won’t take them lightly but we would like to win to get over what happened in the last few days.
“We might have been the favourites but we are not now, although it has still been a good season — fighting at the top of the table, winning the Notts Junior Cup and getting to this final.”
Rusby said his side had been punished for their cup success by having to play too many midweek matches at the end of the season.
“It has taken its toll at the wrong time,” he said. “Player unavailability for midweek matches because they work away has hit us hard.
“Yet we could have played on Sundays, had the league re-arranged some matches. We have had something like eight free Sundays this season.”
'It is the one everyone wants to win'
He hoped to have a stronger squad available for the final, although captain Luke Parsons, who has missed recent matches through illness, is a possible doubt.
Rusby added: “We have gone from having a squad of 19 to me, at 61, putting my kit on just in case. I was a substitute for the two midweek matches last week because it has got that bad.”
The trophy is seen as the biggest in Newark Sunday football because it is open to all sides in the Alliance. “It is the one everyone wants to win,” said Rusby.
Wheatsheaf have been through a season of transition in the Premier Division after losing their reserve team and several key players from previous years.
But they have fought back from a tough start to finish fifth in the top division and also reached the last-four of the Sam Arnold Memorial Trophy.
Manager and goalkeeper Mike Oxborrow said: “I’m delighted we are in the final. Having made the difficult decision to fold our reserve team at the start of the season and having lost a number of key players, we were short on numbers.
“We made a slow start as new players bonded and got used to playing with each other.
“Some of the lads made the step up from the First Division and have been outstanding. The way we bounced back from the 1-0 defeat to RHP in the Sam Arnold Memorial Trophy semi-final to grind out a 1-0 win over Grove in the Willie Hall semi showed resilience on the big stage.”
Oxborrow said he did not believe Wheatsheaf had gone into a recent final as big underdogs, but they were aware of the huge test posed by Newark Town.
“They will be on a high, having won the Notts Junior Cup and being in contention for the league title, but it’s just 90 minutes of football and anything can happen,” he said.
“If we can play how I know we can, I’m confident we can certainly compete and maybe even upset the odds.
“I couldn’t be happier after reaching the final of the Willie Hall — which is a first for a lot of our players — the semi-final of the Sam Arnold and finishing comfortably mid-table during a year of transition.
“All the credit must go to the lads for their efforts, and big thanks to those alongside me in the management team for making this season so successful.”
Assistant manager and right-back James Nussey said it was a fantastic achievement to reach the final after what happened to the club at the start of the season.
“We know we will be up against it, but we will be doing everything we can to win the cup,” he said.
Captain Rob Haigh said reached the final showed the hard work, commitment and togetherness of the whole squad.
The central defender said: “It’s also just reward to the gaffer for the efforts he has put in during a challenging season. Everyone cannot wait for the final now.”