STEVE Wilkes has said that Northwich Victoria’s players still have the ability to surprise him ahead of their biggest game of the season so far.

They host Chertsey Town on Sunday in the first leg of an FA Vase semi-final that will decide who plays at Wembley in May.

And the manager believes Vics do not yet know their ceiling.

“We’ve defied expectation from the start,” he told the Guardian.

“If you’d have asked us before we played Maltby Main in our first qualifier what the chances were of us reaching the last four, we’d have said ‘none’.

“I’ve always said to the lads this is the best competition to enter for clubs at our level, and I’ll drum it into them again before the weekend.

“I’ve given them carrots to keep going each time we’ve got through, and I think they know now what I was on about.”

Vics have won seven matches already to reach this stage, including a 3-1 win against fancied Sholing last time out.

Before that they eliminated two more teams, Newcastle Benfield and then Histon, tipped beforehand by the bookmakers to beat them.

However Wilkes, who will pick a side as manager for the 1,000th time before kick-off, isn’t convinced that there is an underdog this time around.

He said: “There are no duck eggs left because you can’t fluke getting this far.

“These lads have never played in a football match where playing at Wembley is the prize for winning.

“That brings with it pressure, and so a deciding factor will be which set of players deals with that best.”

There is a growing list of examples that Vics can.

Critics can point to the fact their opponents in each of the past two rounds have had a player sent off.

Wilkes’ men kept their heads.

He said: “The red in the Sholing game had a huge impact, and we must take note of that.

“We benefitted, and I don’t care what people say about that.

“Of course discipline is important; if a referee makes a bad decision there’s nothing we can do about it, but we can control our emotions.”

The Vics boss was part of a Bamber Bridge side that reached this stage in 1992 before losing 2-0 on aggregate against Wimborne.

He knows what it feels like to play in a two-legged tie, something that is unusual in non-league football.

“It’s intense, very intense,” he said.

“But you can’t get into calculations.

“For us, Sunday is half-time no matter what the result is.

“We’d like to win, and we’ll set up to do exactly that.

“If we get beat, then I’ll show the lads a video of Man United coming back to beat PSG!”

Kick-off at Wincham Park is at 2pm.

The game is not all-ticket, and spectators pay £6 on the gate to watch.