Aaron Hughes knows all about the thrill of reaching an FA Cup final - but admits he will be in unknown territory with when it comes to a cup tie against non-league opposition.

The Fulham defender was twice in the Newcastle set-up when they reached two finals in the late 90s and although he did not play in the showpiece, he has a semi-final under his belt at Wembley.

What is not on his radar is a game like the fourth round tie coming up this weekend at Conference side Kettering.

Hughes has no experience of such awkward afternoons, but knows it will be vital for the Whites to get their minds right if they are not to become victims of a famous giant-killing - as Coventry were at Sutton in the 80s and Newcastle were at Hereford in the 70s.

"I've not played at a nonleague ground before and it will be a new experience - but that's the FA Cup," Hughes told the Gazette.

"It can throw up fixtures like this every now and again.

"We won't be the first team to have to take on a side a few leagues below us but we know they will give us a good fight and we must be ready for it.

"First off, you've got to be right in your head for a game like that and be ready for it. You have to weather the storm that they will throw at us.

"It will be a hard one against a team who will be at us. It's going to be their cup final."

Hughes will at least be able to draw on his memories of a year go when the Whites were knocked out on penalties by League One Bristol Rovers.

A repeat of that embarrassment is something he will be eager to avoid.

"I played in last year's replay at Bristol Rovers and it was that type of game - where they treat it as their game of the season.

"Hopefully we can learn from that and get it right this time.

"It's important that we prepare for it as we would for any normal Saturday game and I'm sure we will.

"We need to have the right attitude and work ethic. we have to match them first and foremost if our football is to come out on top.

"It's never nice going out to a side outside the Premier League because it hurts your pride and you want to stay in the competition as long as you can.

"We know the conditions will test us. We are lucky that we get to play on nice pitches every week and in big stadiums but we've all played on these type of pitches - when we grew up at school and learned our trade.

"Maybe it's been a little while since we have done that, but we know what it's like and what we have to do.

"We want to be in the hat for the next round and we've got to be concentrated to do that."

Hughes has quite a soft spot for the competition, even if he has not tasted ultimate glory.

There is no doubt he the Northern Ireland international will not be lacking in motivation, given his history.

"I was in the Newcastle squad for a couple of finals when they lost to Arsenal and Man United [1998 and 1999] and played in a semi-final at Wembley when we lost to Chelsea," said the 29-year-old.

"Although I didn't feature in those finals, I've tasted the atmosphere of a big final and it's fantastic and it would be nice to get a good cup run and maybe repeat that.

"We didn't have much to cheer afterwards because we lost both finals, but it's a great day out.

"I was just a youngster at the time Newcastle reached those finals and there were more experienced players than me who got to play, but of course I'd love to play in the final. Every player wants to and I'm no different.

"There still feels a connection with the stuff kids do in the playground, playing knockout FA Cup.

"I know that sometimes teams play weakened sides - some of the big teams that are playing European competitions - but for the majority of us, we understand what the FA Cup is."We've grown up with it and it's a chance for a lot of teams to get a bit of silverware."


Rockingham Road Saturday 3pm FA Cup 4th round

Manager: Mark Cooper Position last season: 1st Conf North Form Guide: Kettering - famously managed by Paul Gascoigne for 39 days in 2005 - are currently ninth in the Conference Premier League. They were promoted from the Blue Square North last season as champions. They have six wins and three defeats on home soil in the league but it is in the cup where they have flourished, putting out League Two sides Lincoln City (2-1 away after a 1-1 draw) and Notts County (2-1 at home after a 1-1 draw). They also beat Burton Albion (3-0) and Eastwood Town (2-1) in earlier rounds.

Players to look out for: Former Pineapple-head striker Jason Lee has pitched up at Kettering,but is cuptied after appearing for Mansfield earlier this season. Top scorer Gareth Seddon has found the target in both previous rounds of the cup against Notts County and Eastwood. A former fitness instructor with the RAF, the 28-year-old was close to signing for Reading a few years ago.

Match Facts: This will be the first ever meeting between the two clubs - and a rare meeting between clubs managed by Muslim owners. The Poppies have Imraan Ladak, a man who has famously championed the Palestinian cause on the team's shirts. The Whites have Mohammed Al Fayed, of course. Kettering have a capacity of 6,170 at their ground - with only 1,800 seats. The Poppies have reached the FA Cup last 16 (fifth round) just once, in 1901, and have been in the fourth round on one other occasion: in 1989.

Forecast: Fulham should be able to dodge this particular banana skin to win at the first time of asking.


Stadium of Light Tuesday 7.45pm Premier league

Manager: Ricky Sbragia Position last season: 15th Form Guide: Sunderland are very muchin the relegation mix, un spite of an initial burst of success under Sbragia following Roy Keane's exit. The Black Cats have won only three at home and lost six - the most recent being against Villa last weekend. Players to look out for: Strikers Kenwyne Jones and Djibril Cissé can be a handful - but the Whites will also be wary of former midfielder Steed Malbranque, if he plays.

Most recent meetings: Fulham 0-0 Sunderland (18 Oct 2008); Fulham 1-3 Sunderland (5 Apr 2008); Sunderland 1-1 Fulham (27 Oct 2007) - Prem. Head-to-head record: SFC Wins: 21 FFC Wins: 14 Draws: 14

Match Facts: The Whites have not won in the past four clashes between the sides. Their last success was a 2-1 home win three years ago and their last away success came in September 2002 when Junichi Inamoto, Barry Hayles and Steve Marlet netted in a 3-0 win.

Forecast: Fulham should be good for a point - if not that elusive first away win.

Gazettef orecast success rate: 10 correct out of 22 (45%).