Tuesday night’s matchday programme sees Ben Pearson as the cover star as the former Manchester United midfielder comes up against their City rivals for the first time.
Speaking to The One And Only for the Carabao Cup third round clash, car school buddies Ben Pearson and Josh Harrop admit the Manchester City draw was extra special to two former United players.
Midfielder Ben said as soon as the draw was made against the Premier League champions for the clash his phone started pinging: “As soon as City came out, I think I had ten phone calls from people asking me for tickets,” smiled the 24-year-old.
“And the messages were very lively on the player group chat! I can’t tell anyone what was said but it was a busy night on the phone.
“When the draw is made you want a team you have a great chance of beating or a top team like City so it’s obviously exciting for the club and the town to be playing one of the best teams in the world.”
Oldham-born Ben admitted his playing career could have taken a different turn as he was on trial at City before he signed for United aged nine.
“There was a football tournament at City’s old training ground, Platt Lane, and my Sunday League team competed there. I think one of their scouts spotted me and I went there for a couple of months. I was six or seven at the time and I can’t remember a lot about it. I have no idea what happened at the end of the months but obviously I didn’t stay there.”
He said it might not have sat happy with his dad Dave, a keen Manchester United fan, who transferred his love of the Red Devils onto his son.
“I think he would have probably thought it was bad news but if it had been my only option he would have accepted it! There were a few more options though.”
Instead United snapped him up and, at 13 and as part of the Manchester United Academy, he moved schools to Ashton-on-Mersey and into digs, despite his parents living close by.
He didn’t get the chance to make a senior appearance for United, spending a spell out on loan at Barnsley, before North End snapped him up in January 2016.
“When I was at United, they were the top team. When I was coming to the end of my career there, City were just starting to overtake them.
“For ten years I was used to United winning titles every year, but that has now switched. Obviously, City have had money pumped into them but it’s their style of play which is now winning them titles every year.”
He admits he did watch a bit of City’s 3-0 victory in the Champions League over Shakhtar Donetsk last week.
“I saw a bit of it, just studying them! We know whoever they play will be strong, their second XI can probably finish in the top four of the Premier League so we know it will be tough.
“I admire their players, last season I spent a lot of time watching Fernandinho as he plays in my position and you can pick things out but obviously they have stand-out stars like Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, obviously we are not sure if they will play but it will be great if they do.
“For us, while the result is important I think it’s more about our performance. You don’t want a really bad result which can stop your momentum, especially at home, but we saw Norwich beat them in the Premier League the weekend before last and that gives you a bit of confidence.
“For us, we want to put in a good performance, we want to show our style of play, how hard we work and obviously we want to win but, more importantly, we want the fans who come tonight and who perhaps don’t come regularly to want to come back and watch us.
“It will be a full-house and I remember when we played Arsenal in the FA Cup in January 2017. They had big players playing for them like Oliver Giroud, Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhana.
“Again, Deepdale was full and we probably should have won that game. We were 1-0 up at half-time through Callum Robinson but then they came back and Giroud scored a late goal to win it.
“But we came off that with a lot of credit, the town was buzzing and the players got confidence off it.
“We tested ourselves against Premier League opposition and we learnt that we could compete at the highest level and play against those top class players.”
You can read loads more from Ben in Tuesday night’s 68-page edition of the match programme, which also features Alan Browne, Jon Macken, Les Chapman, Mike Summerbee, David Nugent and much, much more.
It will be on sale from the ticket office from mid-afternoon on Tuesday and inside and outside the ground on the night from the sellers – still just £3. Make sure you collect yours early!