Phil Peters believes Norstar London Raiders are ready to play the game of their lives and win the Cyril Anekstein Cup.
The long-time MGBSFL Premier Division leaders have seen Hendon wipe away their big lead in recent weeks. But
Peters is confident his troops can deliver in their first major cup final at Wingate & Finchley on Sunday against on a buoyant Hammers team fresh from their victory in the National Cup.
Peters admits he is "concerned" by the fact his Raiders team have been starved of competitive matches in recent weeks – their last outing was five weeks ago when they were beaten by Oakwood – the same team they beat to reach Wingate. Jamie Wolfson and Matt Stock were the marksmen that day.
"We're determined not to let our lack of match sharpness be an excuse on Sunday,” Peters told JC Sport. "If anything the break has been positive for us with a few hard-fought friendlies against teams who have been in our position in the past."
Raiders and Hendon have drawn twice in the league this season, but Peters believes those contests will count for little ahead of the big showdown.
"Those games were so long ago and there’s little I can remember about them apart from the fact that we should have won the first quite comfortably."
Peters and members of his squad have watched Hendon’s recent matches to ensure NLR leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of glory. "Hendon’s performance in the Morrison final was as expected and their physical presence was neutralised by Oakwood who wouldn’t let themselves be bullied," he said.
"The best possible outcome for us was Hendon playing 120 minutes and it means we have the opportunity to be the first Jewish side to beat them this season which is a prize in itself."
Raiders have kept nine clean sheet in the league this season, but Peters says there will be “no bus-parking of any sort by us".
L’Orange have won many fans for their tika-taka style and attack could be the best form of defence against Hendon team.
"With the players I have at my disposal we will be going all-out to win playing the beautiful game,” Peters said.
"Hendon are a fantastic side who have done unbelievably well, but so have we and whilst we respect them we certainly won’t be making many changes to the way we play."
With their title hopes hanging in the balance, Peters is confident his players will not freeze on the big stage. "It’s just another game," he said. "That's been our approach all season and it’s worked most of the time. Several of our squad have had the honour of playing on the hallowed-turf before and we’ll look to their experience on Sunday.
Asked if he had special plans for any of the Hendon players, Peters responded: "It would be wrong to single out individuals when Hendon – more than any side we’ve faced – are about the collective."
Having seen Hendon win the National Cup on penalties, Peters is leaving nothing to chance on Sunday. "We practised penalties before and we’ll certainly be doing so again in training this week.
"I speak to Ric [Blank] most weeks – usually to moan about Hendon – so I don’t expect this week to be any different."
Hendon remain unbeaten domestically this season and manager David Garbacz is confident his team can get the job done at the Harry Abrahams Stadium.
He told JC Sport: "We're nursing one or two bruises from the Morrison final, but the Hendon physios have been hard at work and we should be at full strength for Sunday.
"This is a competition where we have been on fire this season. We have scored an amazing 45 goals in five rounds and Yishai Last has smashed in 13 of them. I will run through Wingate with my boxer shorts on if both of those are not all time Anekstein records!
"However all that now counts for nothing if we don’t go on to finish the job on Sunday and if we win this one by a scrappy own goal that will be mightily fine for me."
Whereas the Morrison final was a war of attrition, the Hendon boss believes the League Cup final will be one for the purists.
"This game should be a cracker – for all the hype the real talk can only be done on the pitch and once the ref blows his whistle no amount of winding up from my opposite number will make the slightest bit of difference."
Garbacz and Peters have been locked in tactical warfare for most of the season and the Hendon boss questioned NLR’s credentials ahead of the crunch clash.
"The main pre-match analysis will be on the fact that Norstar have not played for weeks – this could make them either incredibly fresh or incredibly rusty," he said. "I am sure they have been organising friendlies and intense training sessions so we will be preparing for this match knowing that we will be up against a fit strong speedy unit that will genuinely be as fresh as daisies.
"We have been putting our bodies on the line in all or nothing scenarios for weeks now but every time we have come up trumps and got the end result.
"Also, how will they adapt to playing on grass? Ironically their strength – their 3G pitch — could prove to be their weakness. They have played practically every cup game and every league game at home this year and finished their season in January, but that has now come back to haunt them as we get closer and closer to snatching the title off them.
"It must have been torturous for them to watch us claw back their seemingly unassailable lead in the league and it is an incredible effort from my boys to have got this close.
"Norstar have set us an enormous challenge and should be hugely congratulated for accumulating as many points as they did, however up to now we have been up to the challenge.
"We will aim to finish that job in the coming weeks, but this game is a one-off and many will see it as a straight shoot-out to prove who is the best Jewish team in the country.
Having got last week out of the way and secured one trophy, we will now be under slightly less pressure. We will aim to really put on a show this Sunday. We want to play some exciting football but it will not be at the expense of leaving open spaces for Norstar to exploit.
"Last week was a bit of a battle, as expected, but this week both teams will want to get the ball on the deck and I really think the crowd could be in for a treat. I hope the ref lets the game flow as this would lead to a much pacier match which will be good for both teams.
"We will respect our opposition as always and will have to play exceptionally well, but overall our big match experience, big match players and sheer will-to-win will see us through."
"We sit on the brink of history – no team has ever won two trebles and with the greatest of respect to our remaining league opposition this is the one which will truly determine whether we will complete this achievement.
"We are confident – we are buzzing and absolutely raring to go."