ASSISTANT manager Chris Iwelumo feels Chester’s players must ‘believe in themselves’ if they are to go far in this season’s FA Trophy.
The Blues are focusing on Saturday’s second round tie at home to high-flying Forest Green Rovers and Iwelumo believes the competition represents a ‘fantastic opportunity’ to reach a Wembley final for non-league footballers.
The 38-year-old former Colchester and Burnley forward knows what it means to step out at the famous stadium, having reached the last-ever Football League Trophy final to be held at the Old Wembley in April 2000 with Stoke City, who defeated Bristol City 2-1 with goals from Graham Kavanagh and Peter Thorne.
“The players have to believe in themselves, they have an opportunity in both the league and the Trophy, and that is a competition we’re taking seriously,” said Iwelumo, who came on as a late substitute in Stoke’s cup final success.
“They are a young squad and the experience of a trip to Wembley would be invaluable to the group. From this stage forward, the Trophy is as important to us as the league, we take it very seriously.
“I went to the old Wembley with Stoke and we beat Bristol City. I only came on for the last 60 seconds but the whole experience of the day was unforgettable. There were 75,000 fans there that day, it’s moments like that you remember forever.
“Forest Green have goals in their team but they concede plenty too, so we feel if we can shut them out we’d have a good chance, as we have quality throughout our side. But it’s just one game at a time in the knockout format, we just focus on reaching the next round.”
Chester responded to back-to-back defeats at the hands of Solihull Moors with a 2-1 win at Braintree Town last weekend, and Iwelumo continued: “It’s a busy month and a half we’ve got now so it was good to get back to winning ways at Braintree.
“As long as we learn from the Solihull defeats, it can be beneficial. It didn’t look good at half-time at Braintree but the players turned it around.”
Iwelumo returned to Chester on November 29, replacing Ian Sharps as Jon McCarthy’s assistant, and the former Scotland international believes their working relationship is helping move the Blues forward, explaining; “I’m enjoying all of it, it’s fantastic to be back at the club and I really do enjoy working with this group of players.
“We’re learning off one another every day. I’m not a ‘yes man’ for Macca, we pick each other’s brains for ideas and if I think differently to him on something then I’ll let him know.
“I think I’ve brought an added enthusiasm and I believe the pair of us are helding to provide a united front for this club. The gaffer is incredibly thorough with his preparations and the standards of our training sessions and the efforts these players put in is outstanding.”
Iwelumo, who is balancing his new role with his media work as a pundit on Channel 5’s Football League Tonight programme, has been impressed by the development of younger players such as Sam Hughes and Matty Waters, singled out by Iwelumo as real stars in the making.
He added: “Player development is very important. When I was here as a player, Sam Hughes was just breaking through. Sam had all the technical attributes but he was thin and easily pushed off the ball. Now you look at him, he’s a machine.
“When I go to the gym I see Sam, James Alabi, Kane Richards in there and they are doing their weights, yoga sessions, they eat the right things. We can only look after them for three days, the rest is up to them. But these players have the right attitude off the field to succeed on the pitch.
“Matty Waters is similar to Sam in that he’s got the technical side of the game, but he’ll need to strengthen up. It’s part of the game. The gaffer thinks the world of Matty, he’s got great qualities and I can see him being a key part of the squad for the rest of the season.
We have players like Matty who can turn a game on its head, now he’s got to be able to mix it physically.
“He came on at Braintree and did really well. He could’ve scored in the first-half, he took one touch too many, and it’s little things like that where we can eek out further improvement from the players.”