Goals from Dan Bradshaw have proved vital in Sheppey’s journey to the FA Cup first round - but he’s facing a battle to be fit.
The striker scored in both games against Billericay, as they edged past the Essex side in a memorable Fourth Qualifying Round replay at Holm Park, but he hasn’t played since. Sheppey host Walsall in the first round on Friday night.
A complex back injury means he’s a major doubt and he’s doing everything he can to play in what would be the biggest game of his life.
“I’ve been doing a lot of physio, I have been going to freeze chambers and acupuncture, all sorts!” he said. “If I can’t kick a ball then there is no point me playing but hopefully I will be alright.
“If it was an everyday game I wouldn’t be playing Friday, no chance, but this is the biggest game of my life and I basically said to the physio, ‘I am playing it! I don’t care’.”
Bradshaw was patched up for the replay against Billericay, having scored in the first game which ended 1-1. He netted an opening goal early on before hobbling off after less than half an hour, having at least made an impact.
He recalled: “On the day of the replay they basically said to the physio ‘bodge him, do whatever you need to do so we can get something out of him!’ I was hoping I would get to half-time but when I came down from a header I landed and twisted and it went ping again, so that was that.”
Bradshaw admits his back is showing the signs of a long career netting goals in the lower leagues.
He said: “My back has been mangled for years and nothing has been done about it, it has had years of horrendous, horrible posture and weight carrying. The physio said I would be alright but it is the time span to get me right which is the issue.”
Bradshaw’s surname will be a familiar one to the visitors from Walsall.
Dan’s the brother of former Walsall marksman Tom, who now plays for Championship side Millwall and international football for Wales. Over two seasons with the Saddlers, Tom Bradshaw scored 34 league goals in 67 starts for the club.
The family hail from Shrewsbury, which is the team Dan really wanted to play against in the FA Cup, but League 2 Walsall isn’t a bad substitute. Another of their brothers lives in Walsall and his parents still have plenty of friends from the time Tom played football there.
Dan said: “Straight after the Billericay game a Walsall fan pointed out that Tom’s brother might have set up a tie for us! Walsall is the only club I haven’t seen him play at.
“He was there against Billericay, which was nice for him to see it and for me to score. It’s rare for us to see each other play.
“My mum and dad made friends while Tom was at Walsall, so there have been a lot of Walsall fans speaking to them about it.”
Tom can’t make Friday’s game, as he’ll be taking it easy ahead of a Saturday match for Millwall, and his parents won’t be there either, as they’re on holiday in Spain.
“My dad is fuming,” Dan smiled. “When they saw the draw they thought that the game would be moved to Sunday for the TV. When it got moved to the Friday my old man was raging! He’s been busy running around looking for a bar that will put it on.”
The bars in Sheppey should be busy too, with matchday tickets quickly snapped up.
Bradshaw said: “It has been unreal, cameras everywhere, the interest in tickets has been insane, the amount of people that have come up to me and said, ‘Dan, can you get me a ticket?’ It has been different level.
“It has been quite nice to have this popularity for the club, it has put Sheppey on the map a bit.
“It is a nice feel in Sheppey, all the pubs are putting deals on for the game, most pubs are chucking it on and whether people have a ticket or not they should have a good night, it should be a good atmosphere, wherever they watch.”
The result on Friday won’t matter to Sheppey, having fulfilled their dream of reaching the FA Cup First Round - something never done at the club before.
Sheppey have already pulled off surprise results to shock higher-ranked sides Merthyr Town and Billericay, having defeated Midhurst & Easebourne, Kennington and Burgess Hill in the earlier rounds.
Bradshaw, who scored twice against Midhurst, said: “Not a lot of people expected us to get anything at Merthyr but we were up for the game, we knew they were beatable. First half was tight but second half we ruined them, absolutely destroyed them.
“That gave us confidence, the way we played and the strength we had in attack, we noticed that Merthyr would be undone by that. We beat them with our width.”
Isthmian Premier Billericay were beaten in a replay, on penalties. Both games finished 1-1, with Bradshaw scoring the opening goal in both.
“We watched clips against Billericay and also noticed issues down their flanks,” he said.
“Before the first game the gaffer came up to me and said the no.4 is really slow, target him and that’s what happened. I played off the four, cut inside and it is only the third ever goal I have scored outside the box!
“I was as surprised as anyone that it went in. I once scored four in a game and it was a combined yardage of 10 yards!”
Seeing the drama unfold in the replay, after going off injured, was a tough watch, the striker admitted.
He said: “I was gutted after going off 25 minutes in but I knew I would never make it to 90, it wasn’t a surprise.
“It was vile for me then on the bench, disgusting, absolutely horrendous, I felt sick.
“They scored towards the end, we felt a bit deflated thinking ‘here we go, they would have a lift’ but then they had a guy sent off and it was all us after that. It went to penalties and went that way.”
Walsall will be another giant leap in terms of quality. This is new territory for Bradshaw but can they cause an upset?
He said: “They are a pro club, full-time players, they are very good, well-disciplined, technical players but the situation we have been put in gives us every chance to get something.
“We are at home, it’s Friday night, it will be cold, probably raining and windy at Sheppey, they will have hardly any fans. We will pack it out with our fans and the pressure is all on them, there is no pressure on us.
“Anything can happen on the night, it’s the FA Cup.”