Joel Ward would love for Crystal Palace to enjoy another special FA Cup journey but knows they must first handle the heat of a white-hot atmosphere at the Den on Saturday.
The Eagles will make the short trip across south London this weekend to face Millwall in the third round with aims of repeating their 2016 run to Wembley where they lost in the final after extra time to Manchester United.
Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off with the Sky Bet Championship outfit will be the first competitive meeting between the rivals in almost nine years and Palace’s long-serving defender is well versed with what to expect.
“Ah, we’ll get a brilliant reception, no doubt,” Ward said, having started the stalemate at the Den in the 2012-13 campaign.
“Look, we know it will be a battle. Being a club not too far away from where we are, there will be moments and it will have its heat but we have to make sure we impose ourselves and continue professionally in the manner we will.
“If we do there is no reason why we can’t impose ourselves on the game and come away being through to the next round but we know it will be a difficult place to go and the atmosphere will be a challenge as well.”
Since facing Millwall at the end of their promotion-winning campaign, Palace have played at Wembley on three occasions with the most recent the FA Cup Final loss to Louis van Gaal’s United.
Ward played the whole match and conceded while the overall journey was amazing, to lose after taking the lead in the 78th minute through Jason Puncheon remains a bitter pill to swallow for him and others still in the squad.
“If I could flick a switch and change the end result it would be amazing but that is not reality. The journey was still brilliant,” the right-back added.
“By and large we played really well and deserved more. We were unfortunate on the day but that’s football right?
“It is a game of inches as Al Pacino says and you kind of have to dust yourself down and go again. To lose late on was gutting and to get so far, it kind of pulls at the heartstrings for sure.”
Three players who started the 2-1 loss at Wembley six years ago remain at the club but with Wilfried Zaha at the Africa Cup of Nations and James McArthur injured, Ward will be the only one to take on Millwall.
The 32-year-old admitted there is a feeling of “unfinished business” but acknowledged the new-look feel to Patrick Vieira’s squad which has impressed this term and gained a notable 2-0 win at Manchester City.
“We have an exciting group and exciting squad. I think sky is the limit if we pull in the right direction and continue to move on the path we’re heading towards,” he said.
“It would be nice to say we have some unfinished business in the FA Cup. We would have loved to have won it and I think 2016 will always stay with us because we came so close but so far as well I guess.
“We would love to go on another run and for the club and fans it could be a journey we could all go on together again.”
Right-back Ward has been a virtual ever-present for Palace this season, only missing last month’s defeat at Old Trafford due to suspension having played every other possible minute.
He could face extra competition during the coming months though with Nathan Ferguson fit again after a torrid two years where knee, hamstring and Achilles injuries have restricted the youngster to only one appearance for a club he joined 18 months ago.
Ward said: “It’s a testament to his character the way in which he has picked himself up after each setback and they are only setbacks, they’re only speed bumps but unfortunately in life we come across those.
“His work ethic to make sure that he is right, ready to go and come back has been spot on.
“We all want to see him back out on the pitch and doing what he does because competition is healthy, it’s important, and it only increases the level of performances and individual levels as well.”