THE BIG MATCH
All eyes will be on Wembley Stadium on Sunday as Crewe Alexandra and Southend United lock horns in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Final.
The npower League 1 Railwaymen are competing at the national stadium for the second time in under 12 months and will be hoping to record another triumph, after winning the League 2 Play-Off Final under the arch last term against Cheltenham Town.
To earn the right to play against the Robins in that Final, Steve Davis' men had to dispatch of Southend in the semi-final. They recorded a narrow 1-0 win in front of their home fans in the first leg, before drawing 2-2 at Roots Hall to advance.
And memories of that match will be at the forefront of a number of the Southend players' minds as they prepare to be the first Shrimpers team to walk out and play at Wembley.
The Blues lie outside the top seven in League 2 this time around and that forced a change in management at the Essex outfit just under two weeks ago, with Phil Brown replacing Paul Sturrock.
Brown is assisted at Roots Hall by Graham Coughlan, who lost at Wembley as a player, and he's hoping to inspire the Southend team to Trophy glory.
"Wembley is a great place to win, but a horrible place to lose and I know that only too well," the 38-year-old told the Southend Echo.
"I was captain of Shrewsbury Town when we played there and it's a great place to go and play but I'm a bad loser and that defeat still hurts me now.
"I think it probably will for the rest of my life as well, so I hope the players play the way we all know they can on Sunday and that they're able to get the win.
"When you get this far in a cup competition you want to win, there's no question about that. Winning would make the day complete and I will be stressing to the players that they need to try and make sure they take everything in.
"Days like this don't come around too often and they go really quickly, so it's important to not let it pass you by."
Steve Davis and his Crewe team will have very happy memories of the last time they stepped out at the home of English football, and they will of course be hoping to replicate their success by lifting the Trophy on Sunday.
And the 47-year-old manager, who took over from Dario Gradi at Gresty Road in November 2011 when the Railwaymen sat 18th in League 2, is looking for his players to make a name for themselves, but admits he faces a selection headache.
He told The Sentinel: "It's a time for heroes and it could be anybody that emerges.
"Nick [Powell] was the likely candidate [in the Play-Off Final last season] and delivered. There's any one of three or four who could do something spectacular on the day. I hope they're all heroes.
"There will be one or two broken hearts, but that's the nature of the game. You get your highs in football when you are really enjoying it and you hope the lows will help you become a stronger character and a better player.
"That's how I would take it if I was left out of the 16; I would see it as a bit of a kick up the backside to come back and do better."
This weekend's Johnstone's Paint Trophy finalists have crossed paths on 36 occasions, with the most significant meetings coming last season when both teams were battling for promotion in npower League 2.
It was Southend who took the honours in the two league fixtures, winning 3-1 at Gresty Road in October 2011, before recording a 1-0 triumph at Roots Hall in February 2012, but Crewe came out on top when the sides clashed in the Play-Off semi-finals, and they went on to seal promotion to League 1 via a 2-0 Final success against Cheltenham Town.
Prior to those meetings, it is the Shrimpers who have the better record, with 19 victories compared to Crewe's 10. The two sides have never met in a cup competition, though, so Sunday's Final is untrodden territory.
Steve Davis certainly has plenty of options amongst his ranks heading into the Final. The Crewe manager faces a selection dilemma with a number of players to choose from in all positions, and he will finalise his plans after a Friday afternoon training session at Arsenal's London Colney facilities.
Davis is expected to make late calls on top scorer Mathias Pogba, who didn't play for the club when they enjoyed their day out at Wembley last season, as he has a thigh injury, while captain Luke Murphy is also a doubt.
A trio of Southend players also face late fitness tests ahead of the 1.15pm kick-off.
Defenders Chris Barker and Luke Prosser, as well as Southampton loanee Ben Reeves, who netted the Area Final winner against Leyton Orient, all returned to training this week but remain doubtful for the Final.
ROUTE TO THE FINAL
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