Connell Rawlinson insists that this Sunday's Emirates FA Cup fixture will be the 'biggest game' of his career so far, and the defender is determined to put in a good performance in front of the home supporters.
With an increased number of fans inside Vale Park and the BT Sport cameras broadcasting the game to a wider audience, Rawlinson admits that there is added pressure. However, he insists the preparations for the highly anticipated fixture have been no different to any other.
Vale go into the first round tie in great form having put together a five-game unbeaten run in all competitions, but Sunderland are favourites following six successive victories in all competitions. With that in mind, Rawlinson is expecting a very difficult test, but he is optimistic.
He said: “It’s the biggest game of my career and it’s something I’ve been looking forward to since the draw came out, especially with it being such a big team.
"There will be a fair few fans here, so it’s going to be a great occasion that myself, my family and the rest of the lads are buzzing for.
“The build-up to the game has been the same as always, and it’s important not to make it any different because you’ve got to play the game, not the occasion.
“Just doing the right things that we’ve been doing over the previous weeks is working in the league, and we’re five unbeaten now across all competitions. If we do the same thing, I think we’ll be ok on Sunday.
“Every day it goes through your head about maybe scoring the winner or putting in a last minute tackle, but as long as we get the result on Sunday it doesn’t matter who scores - the team comes before any individual performance.
“We’ll all try to do our jobs at the back and the lads up front will try and do theirs, but if we don’t concede a goal then we’re guaranteed a replay at the bare minimum.
“We’ll be looking to defend properly and be solid, and when we go forward we’ll be looking to create chances like we did on Saturday against Notts County.
On the match being televised, the defender added: “When you’re on the pitch you don’t even realise that you’re playing in front of that many fans or the cameras, once that whistle blows you’re focused on the game.
“It’s your 11 against their 11 and that’s it. Knowing that the cameras will be here adds a little bit of pressure, but we’re all in football to soak that up and turn it into a positive performance."
Rawlinson has been a key part of Vale's recent upturn in form and he has cemented his place as a regular in the defence following his summer move from The New Saints, but he is eager to keep impressing the manager and fans alike.
Despite not having any previous experience in the Football League, the 27-year-old has adapted to the level seamlessly and last weekend's draw with Notts County marked his 20th appearance in a Vale shirt.
“Coming into the club at the start of the season was the complete unknown to me. I didn’t know the standard or how good I’d be, and I wasn’t sure if I’d take to it as well as I have done," he revealed.
“I feel really settled at the moment, especially in the team I’m enjoying the new formation and playing left of a three. Ideally I’m a centre-half, but if I need to play out of position I will do, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing.
“I’m really happy with how I’ve started. I wanted to hit the ground running because I’ve not got time to improve as I’m 27, so I needed a good season.
“The start was positive and I made sure I got into the team early on because the last thing I wanted was to be sitting on the bench and not showcasing my talent on the pitch.
“Everything has worked out perfectly and I’ve put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes before I even came in, so it’s all paying off and I’m loving my time at the club.
“When I left Welsh football and I came into the English leagues, it was all about milestones for me and achieving thing. That way, when I do finish playing, I can look back and say I’ve done what I set out to do."
Now with Sunday's tie proving to be his first taste of the FA Cup, Rawlinson is excited to get out there and test himself against a strong Sunderland side, and he believes that he and his teammates can cause an upset.
With Vale's past exploits in the competition providing many great memories for fans, he would love to play his part in any potential success this time around. Despite the league being the priority, he insists that a cup run would be brilliant for the club.
He said: “My first FA Cup game is something I’ve looked forward to since I signed for the club, and now I’m playing regularly, hopefully I’ll be in the team on Sunday. That would be something to tick off the list, and hopefully we get a positive result.
“It’s a cup game at the end of the day and every game we play should be treated as such, you go into each one looking for a win regardless.
“If we approach the game correctly and put our stamp upon it, getting stuck in and trying to ruffle a few feathers, I don’t see why we can’t pull off a good result.
“Port Vale has a rich history in the FA Cup as well as in league football, so if we can get a result on Sunday it can only benefit the club moving forward. There’s a lot of money on the line if you can progress through the rounds, and we’ll be looking to not get beaten and stay in it as long as possible.”