Everton get their 2020-21 Carabao Cup campaign underway when Salford City visit Goodison Park for their second round clash.
The winner will travel to Fleetwood Town in the third round next week, with the fourth round pencilled in for the following week.
The Blues will want to build on their fantastic 1-0 win at Tottenham on the opening day, while Salford, who are among the League Two promotion favourites this season, started with a 2-2 home draw with Exeter on Saturday.
Salford’s recent rise has been meteoric; under the ownership of Peter Lim and six of Manchester United’s ‘Class of 92’ including former Everton player Phil Neville, they’ve gone from the eighth to the fourth tier of English football in just five years.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game, we chatted with Salford fan Andy Thurston who also looks after the Salford City Supporters Club.
RBM: Firstly, for those who may be less aware of Salford’s recent rise, give us an insight into how far they’ve come under the ownership of Peter Lim and the six ‘Class of ‘92’ members.
Andy: Before the takeover, we had one main stand and a tin shed facing it. Behind one goal, we had enough room for the kids to have a game of three-a-side while the dads watched the team with a pint and a pie, swapping ends each half, having the craic with the opposition fans over a pint in the bar after the game.
Now, we’ve got a new stadium with new bars and private boxes, watching some of the best players League Two has to offer - but no beer and no swapping ends!
RBM: Given the Carabao Cup is often regarded as unimportant, how significant to you is Wednesday’s game?
Andy: If fans were allowed in, it would have been one of the highlights for me as fan, but now fans aren’t allowed in, it’s taken the shine off it. I was gutted when the draw was made; Goodison Park is a ground I’ve always wanted to go to.
Promotion is the aim for us this season; we’ve already booked a trip to Wembley from last season [EFL Trophy final against Portsmouth which was suspended due to COVID-19].
RBM: After finishing 11th in the curtailed League Two last term, their first year in the EFL, is promotion a realistic aim this season?
Andy: 100,000 per cent. The players we’ve kept on and signed for this season show real intent and the squad we had before lockdown kicked in was superb. We would have made a good run for the playoffs; much closer than 11th, anyway.
RBM: Salford have only played three competitive fixtures since football returned in a behind-closed-doors format. Even with the wealth of their co-owners, do you still worry about the financial toll the loss of matchday revenue could take on the club?
Andy: We’re in a very lucky position with our owners and us still growing our fan base from an average non-league fan base from attendances of 100 to 150 up to about 2,500 in four years.
Our budgets aren’t reliant on fans through the door as other clubs but I’ve still bought my season ticket to support the club. Regardless of our owners, as a fan you want to do your bit to help.
RBM: Were you disappointed by the club’s decision in June to scrap their Under-18s side, or was this another consequence of the pandemic?
Andy: Not really. Any Under-18 good enough for the EFL would have already been at a Premier League club’s academy.
But having the Under-23s side is the key, with Warren Joyce working with lads released from clubs at 18 years old to provide players for the first team - Brandon Thomas-Asante being one of them.
RBM: Salford boast two former Everton players in midfielder Darron Gibson and left-back Ibou Touray. Though Touray has been at Moor Lane for three years and Gibson only since February, how big an impression have they both made?
Andy: Touray has been a massive player for us - two promotions in three years and he rarely misses a game. We got a proper gem in signing him from Nantwich.
Gibson is a Rolls-Royce of a player for League Two; he’s dictated the pace of the game and has given confidence to the whole team since he’s come on board.
RBM: How do you expect Salford to set up on Wednesday?
Andy: All depends on who the gaffer plays but I’ll go with 4-3-3.
RBM: Which of Salford’s players do you think could cause Everton the most problems?
Andy: Ash Hunter and Thomas-Asante; both young lads with bags of pace and the odd Maradona or two up their sleeves.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s game?
Andy: Heart says 2-1 Salford, but head’s thinking 2-0 Everton. Either way, it’s going to be a good test for us at the right end of the season.
Our thanks to Andy for his time.