Seventh-tier Alvechurch eagerly anticipating their "FA Cup final" against League One Cheltenham

Alvechurch manager Ian Long believes there is no pressure on his side as they prepare to face League One side Cheltenham in the first round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

The Church are the lowest-ranked team left in the competition, playing their football in the Southern League Premier Central division - the seventh-tier of the English pyramid.

After beating Worksop Town 3-2 at home ground Lye Meadow in the final qualifying round, Alvechurch now travel to Gloucestershire in the hopes of an upset against Cheltenham, but Long believes the meeting will be an FA Cup final in itself for his side.

He told Planet Sport: "The dressing room (after the Worksop game) was bouncing, singing, it was a great atmosphere and it helps build the spirit at the club and everyone at the moment has a real buzz about it at the moment.

"It is great, we've got a game to look forward to, and whatever happens now in the FA Cup we have been successful, this is our FA Cup final really now. Cheltenham will be our FA Cup final.

"Don't get me wrong, we're going to go there and give it our best shot. If we can get something or get them back to Lye Meadow that would be great.

"We've gone beyond where probably we should get to. There's no pressure on us, the pressure will all be on Cheltenham, they're expected to win and not just win, they're expected to win comfortably."

Alvechurch secured their spot in the first round proper of the Cup for the first time in 48 years after beating Worksop, and Long is hopeful they have the opportunity to show how good a product non-league football is.

"I think non-league is a really good product at the moment," he added.

"Especially with people struggling financially with everything that's going on in the world at the moment, it's a lot cheaper to go and watch your local non-league side, and the majority of sides now are likely to get the ball down and play.

"I think it's a great product, you can tackle a little bit more, the art of tackling is going out of the Premier League games and it's becoming a non-contact sport, whereas non-league it's a little bit more physical.

"I do also think the majority of sides are starting to play their own way, and play through the thirds.

"It's good, we're certainly one of those sides who try and play the right way and we've always done that."

South Shields, managed by former Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips, are another side from the seventh tier who face League One opponents in the first round as they welcome Forest Green to the 1st Cloud Arena on Saturday.

They last reached the first proper round in 2020, losing 3-1 away to Cheltenham, but Phillips is relishing the opportunity to go one step further this time.

He told PA: "(It's) very exciting, it's my first taste of the FA Cup as a manger, so I'm very pleased to have a run in the FA Cup.

"I know because I played in non-league football for two years when I first started out in football and I know what it meant to the players back then, but we've seen over the years the bigger it's got, the upsets we've seen and the magic of the competition is just unbelievable.

"I'm delighted, but I'm more delighted and pleased for the players and the football club, because the last time they reached the first round it was during Covid so there were no fans that could travel down to Cheltenham.

"To be able to reach that first round in front of our fans and getting that home draw against Forest Green is magical for the club and of course for myself and the players."

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