PAUL SMITH urged Redditch United to relish the visit by title favourites Kettering Town as the chance to prove they can match the very best.
The Reds drew 4-4 at the Poppies in November in a roller-coaster contest and while results have been up and down in recent weeks manager Smith says his squad will want to grasp the chance to impress against the league leaders.
Kettering lie five points clear at the top of the Evo-Stik South Premier Central after three wins in a row while the 15th-placed Reds are winless in three.
But Smith says his players need to embrace the challenge.
“It’s a free hit for us because nobody expects us to get anything with the run they’ve been on,” said the boss.
“But I firmly believe that on our day we can match anyone in the league.
“Earlier in the season, we went there and we fully deserved the draw. If anything, we could have come away with the win. I don’t think Kettering will relish coming to our place – we’ll make sure they’re in a game.
“We’ll need to close them down, not give them time to play.
“Although our results in the last couple of games haven’t been great, our performances have deserved better. It’s just not worked out but the effort is there. Sometimes you need that little bit of magic or a bit of luck.”
After last weekend’s trip to Banbury United was postponed due to snow, the Reds warmed up for the Kettering clash with a friendly at home to Darren Byfield’s Walsall Wood on Tuesday night.
Danico Johnson scored twice ad both Michael Nelson and Leam Howards got on the scoresheet in a 4-3 win. Smith used 20 players in the game, using the contest as the chance to give the squad a run-out. New signing Mike McGrath, who joined fr
om Bromsgrove Sporting, played 90 minutes and fellow newcomer Jordan Stoddard, signed from Worcester City, got 45 minutes under his belt and both are set to feature against Kettering.
“We were only able to train once last week and then Saturday’s match was called off so we needed to give the players a good blow-out,” said Smith. “It worked out well. The players all got at least 45 minutes and we did a running session as well.
“It was 10-fold better than a training session and it also helped get the Stratford defeat in our last game out of our system. It did everybody the world of good and now we need to take that into Saturday.”
He added: “It was good to see Mike and Jordan get out onto the pitch and they did well. Both of them will come into contention for Saturday.
“They will give us more strength in depth.”
Redditch will be without the injured Jack Storer and the suspended Lewis Wright against the Poppies.
Wright serves a three-match ban after his red card against Stratford but Smith has positive news about former Birmingham City striker Storer, who joined Reds from Scottish Championship side Partick Thistle.
He hurt his knee in the match at Rushall Olympic on January 5 but is a week away from fitness. A scan revealed no ligament damage, but a bruised bone.
“Jack is not a million miles away; hopefully he’s a week or so from being fit,” said Smith. “Hopefully we’ll have Jack back sooner rather than later. In the couple of games he played before he got injured, he showed he will be a real asset for us.”