*BS*Dover Athletic goalkeeper Mitch Walker talks to Jack O’Sullivan about Saturday’s FA Cup clash against MK Dons, and is confident that Whites can put on a good performance.*BF*
One of the season’s highlights thus far has undoubtedly been the emergence of Mitch Walker as one of the leading goalkeepers in the non-league game, signified by the 22-year-olds recent call-ups to the England C side.
This Saturday, Walker will line up for a Dover Athletic side facing one of the biggest matches in the club’s history, travelling to MK Dons to face the League One side in the second round of the FA Cup.
In terms of club matches he has participated in, Walker ranks this forthcoming rank right at the top: “It’ll be the biggest game I’ve ever played in for the club. Last year’s play-off final against Salisbury was a good experience, but in terms of what this game could mean for the club, it’s the biggest.”
With it being nearly four weeks since the draw was made, the ex-Brighton stopper dismissed any suggestion that this game has been on the back of his mind ever since: “Of course, when you’re not playing matches you think about the Cup game. We’ve played four games since the draw was made, though, and have been fully focused on them – as the results prove.”
Those four games have seen Whites progress in the FA Trophy, with wins over Bath City and East Thurrock after Tuesday’s replay, and add to their Skrill South points tally with a dominant win over Chelmsford a fortnight ago.
That victory, which the side won 4-0 despite going down to ten men early on, was more comfortable than Walker expected: “I’ve played there a few times before, and they’ve always been tough opposition – and when we had a man sent off, a draw probably wouldn’t have been a bad result.
Us getting the first goal was important, and in the second half they just crumbled. I’ve never experienced a game like that before.”
Whites’ path to the second round has seen wins over Guernsey, AFC Rushden & Diamonds, Oxford City and Corby Town – all games which, on paper at least, the side were expected to win.
This time around, with over 70 league places separating Dover Athletic and MK Dons, Walker is happy to enter the game as underdogs: “In the previous rounds, we’ve been favourites so the pressure has been on us. On Saturday, I don’t expect many people to give us a chance but we’re fine with that.
It’s a good opportunity for us all to show what we can do. There’s a lot of players in our side, myself included, who think we can play League football in the future so this is a chance for us to prove ourselves. There’s a great mix of experience and youth in the side too – as well as our younger players, guys like Nathan Elder and Terrell Forbes have been there before and their experience helps us all out, both on and off the pitch.
With regards to the match itself, I think we can be confident of getting something out of it. There have been much bigger shocks in the FA Cup before, and we’re all going there confident of getting a result.”
Whilst playing a side three leagues above you is always going to be tough, MK Dons’ recent form should give hope. Losing eight of their last 11 games, Walker says there is no reason to be defeatist: “They had a great start to the season but in the past couple of months they’ve struggled. There’s absolutely no pressure on us. We’re expected to lose, so can just go out there and enjoy the game.
At the end of the day, anything can happen in football. Someone can be sent off in the first minute of a game which can completely change a game. This match is what Cup football is all about, and the publicity is welcome. We have ITV cameras coming down to our training session tonight.”
One key difference between the two sides on Saturday may prove to be fitness levels, particularly towards the end of the tie. Walker is confident the side can last the distance, though: “For our level, we are a very fit team. Of course, training full-time makes a big difference and there may be some tired legs out there in the final quarter.”
Whites have kept seven clean sheets in their last 14 matches, a run of games which has yielded eleven wins, two draws and just one defeat. After a slow start to the season, Walker feels the side have now gelled: “The way Chris wants his players to play took a few of the new guys a bit of time to get used to – but we’re seeing the results now. Over the past two months we’ve been fantastic and to still be in four competitions is great.”
The FA Trophy remains a more realistic opportunity for Dover to reach Wembley, and it is a competition Mitch feels the side can do well in: “We’ve got a good chance to progress. There’s quite a few Conference Premier sides already knocked out, so there’s no reason we can’t go quite far.”
For now, dreams of progressing in the FA Cup remain and, if Whites were to pull off an upset, Walker would like to draw a top Premier League side at home: “Having a big, big club down at Crabble would be amazing. Lee Hook told me about the atmosphere when Dover played Aldershot, and that’s the kind of game I would love to be involved in.
When we played Ebbsfleet earlier in the season, the ground seem packed then – but to have over three times more people in the ground would be something else.”
Walker is complimentary towards the support received from Hook: “Lee is a great help for me. He’s got a lot of experience at this level, and we always talk about my performance and ways I can improve. He’s great to have around.”