THIRD TIME LUCKY?

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Can Bar­row boss Paul Cox fi­nally bury the ghost of Luis Suarez with an FA Cup third round vic­tory?

THERE aren’t many peo­ple who had the FA Cup at their wedding. But, then again, there aren’t many peo­ple who had a few days quite like Bar­row boss Paul Cox. Three years ago this very week, Cox’s Mans­field Town were pre­par­ing to take on Pre­mier League gi­ants Liver­pool in the FA Cup third round. Win­ners of the fa­mous com­pe­ti­tion on seven oc­ca­sions, the five-time Euro­pean Cup cham­pi­ons were set to give Daniel Stur­ridge his de­but, name Jamie Car­ragher in de­fence and call upon a cer­tain Luis Suarez from the bench. But 48 hours be­fore the big­gest day of his man­age­ment life he had... the big­gest day of his life.

Su­per­sti­tious

When he was East­wood man­ager, Cox and part­ner Natasha would have a lit­tle wa­ger on the Cup games. It grew into a tra­di­tion af­ter the Badgers made it to the third round stage by beat­ing Wy­combe Wan­der­ers in 2008. So at Mans­field Cox promised they would tie the knot if his Stags beat Lin­coln City in a sec­ond round re­play. They did and it was a date a t the al­ter. Talk about an FA Cup love af­fair. “I’m very su­per­sti­tious,” Cox says. “When we were at East­wood we did the same. Ev­ery time we were in the FA Cup my wife said, ‘Right, we’ll have a bet. You get through this, I get to have some­thing’. In the early rounds at East­wood it was a nice pair of shoes or some­thing like that, and it went on. “At Mans­field we’re re­ally good friends with (own­ers) John and Carolyn (Rad­ford) and we went out for a drink one night. The two girls said. ‘If you beat Lin­coln in the re­play and get a big club, you’ve got to get mar­ried’. “We sat there that night and Liver­pool came out of the hat. I’ve never seen my wife so ec­static. It was sur­real. We got mar­ried with TV cam­eras there and the FA Cup was at the wedding re­cep­tion. Some of my wedding snaps are with the FA Cup!” Mans­field pushed Liver­pool all the way un­der the spot­light, los­ing 2-1 in a game that had a mo­ment of con­tro­versy in­volv­ing the no­to­ri­ous Suarez. The Uruguayan star came off the bench to put the vis­i­tors two goals ahead, but it was the un­pun­ished use of his hand be­fore he rounded keeper Alan Mar­riott that re­ally up­set the Stags. “I opened a present from my wife a cou­ple of Christ­mases ago and it was Luis Suarez’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,” Cox says. “I raised my eye­brows as if to say, ‘Why have you bought me this?’ One of the pages was high­lighted and he’d writ­ten a few para­graphs on me. “I knew af­ter the game, the foot­ball world would want his head on a plate. I know he’s got up to things that an­noy peo­ple, but when you come up close to him you see what a fab­u­lous player he is. He’s one of the world­class strik­ers around at the minute. “I was asked about the in­ci­dent and I didn’t take a cheap shot at him. I don’t think he ac­tu­ally re­alised the goal was go­ing to be given. I think he ap­pre­ci­ated that. We were dis­ap­pointed to lose a game, but the ex­pe­ri­ence and mem­o­ries come from this com­pe­ti­tion. It’s the best in the world and pro­duces so many mo­ments. “When you look back on your foot­ball life, they’re the ones that stand out. When you’re sat around a ta­ble hav­ing a few pints, they’re the sto­ries you talk about. It’s fab­u­lous.” Now his Na­tional League Bar­row are at the same stage for the first time in their his­tory. Rochdale may be in good form in League One, but hav­ing al­ready beaten Bris­tol Rovers from the same di­vi­sion to get this far, the Blue­birds will turn up on Satur­day with con­fi­dence. That and the un­beaten run that stretched to a re­mark­able 26 games on Box­ing Day be­fore yester­had day’s crush­ing de­feat at Gateshead – with Cox re­fus­ing to shave or cut his hair un­til it’s bro­ken. “We know how tough it’s go­ing to be, Rochdale are on fire at the minute,” Cox says. “I’ve been to watch them, we’ve had them watched again and we’ll see them twice more be­fore we play them. “We prob­a­bly need Rochdale to have an off-day and we play to our full po­ten­tial, but it’s the FA Cup. That’s what it’s all about. “Bris­tol Rovers was prob­a­bly the most re­laxed I’ve seen us play. We went into the game to en­joy it. We the pres­sure in the first round when we played Taunton and ev­ery­one ex­pects you to win. We’ll work ex­tremely hard to cause an up­set and reach the fourth round, but our minds are firmly on en­joy­ing it. “Go­ing back to Mans­field, I stopped en­joy­ing foot­ball at a cer­tain point. But you kind of re­dis­cover your­self. I en­joy com­ing into work ev­ery day, the way the lads are at train­ing. We’ve got a good group, some great young play­ers and ex­pe­ri­enced boys who know Non-League. “There’s a good feel in the camp. We’re look­ing at strength­en­ing but they’ve got to be the right peo­ple be­cause, in terms of group dy­nam­ics, there are fab­u­lous per­son­al­i­ties in there.

Con­sis­tent

“That’s what’s mak­ing me smile. I’m work­ing with a group who are not just good foot­ballers, but good peo­ple as well. There are al­ways times when you ques­tion play­ers but ev­ery time I do they ram the words back down my throat, which I en­joy too. We’ve been con­sis­tent for 26 games, the chal­lenge now is, ‘Can we re­peat it?’ If we do, I’ll look like Cap­tain Cave­man still and the boys will have pro­pelled them­selves into a po­si­tion where they’ll get the adu­la­tion they’ve worked hard for.” It’s not lost on Cox that Mans­field were able to use their meet­ing with Liver­pool as a spring­board to the Con­fer­ence ti­tle the same sea­son. They were 13 points off top spot but a 12-game win­ning streak saw them to the sum­mit and into the Foot­ball League. But, what’s the bet with Natasha this time? “Be­lieve it or not, she’s dam­aged her wedding ring,” he says. “We’ve not talked about this round yet be­cause I al­ready owe her that from the last round. She’s been the lucky charm. It’s the third club now and the third time I’ve got there. I’ve had some great times.” Here’s to more.

PARTY POOPER: Luis Suarez con­tro­ver­sially ended Paul Cox’s FA Cup dream three years ago PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

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