The ticking of Tamworth's FA Cup countdown is becoming a crescendo but Mark Cooper can hear the sound of more than one clock.

The Lambs playermanager is becoming more of an expert on deadlines than any newspaper man and 3pm tomorrow [2014] when the Nationwide Conference club make their first appearance in the Cup third round [2014] is the least of his worries.

By the time noon strikes today he hopes to add a new front-runner to the squad and he hopes to have on-loan goalkeeper Scott Bevan confirmed as a Lambs player for the rest of the season.

If not, he will have to replace Bevan and draft in veteran coach Mark Gayle to face Stoke City in front of around 20,000 fans at the Britannia Stadium.

Bevan has spent three months on loan from Milton Keynes Dons and figured in the Lambs giant-killing exploits at Bournemouth and Hartlepool but Cooper needs to sign the 6ft 5ins goal-keeper permanently if he wants him to play against Championship play-offchasers Stoke.

Two sides of the triangle are complete. Bevan wants to stay, Milton Keynes want to get rid of him and it's just the details to complete.

"Scott has got to sign a

contract or non-contract terms to join us from Milton Keynes Dons and it's got to be sorted out by noon on Friday," said Cooper last night. "They have told him they want to pay him off and they are just haggling over how much.

"If it is not completed, then Mark Gayle will play. He has played twice for us and he has been great so I've got no qualms about 'Gayley'."

After 18 years in the game, Cooper knows timing is crucial.

The 36-year-old former Birmingham City, Exeter and Hartlepool midfielder might be more of an horologist measuring every nano-second in trying to improve his squad than an astrologer, but he

doesn't need a crystal ball to assess the challenge facing him and Tamworth tomorrow at the Britannia Stadium.

Tamworth, one of the few part-time clubs in the increasingly full-time Conference face a relegation dog-fight. They are accustomed to being the underdogs. But they have shown the tenacity of a Jack Russell and the bite of a Rottweiler in ousting League one duo Bournemouth and Hartlepool in their recordbreaking run.

Cooper, however, is realistic about the prospects of an amazing hat-trick.

"Stoke are in a no-win situation," he said. "If they beat us four of five-nil then no-one will bat an eyelid because

they should do. If they don't they will get stick because people will point out Tam-worth are part-time. Maybe that's something we can play on.

"If you are realistic, it's a massive ask. There's an enormous gulf between League One and the Championship. If they underestimate us anything can happen.

"But if it does then it will be the biggest shock of all-time."

The importance of the clock will again be in evidence. If the Lambs are to have any chance of an upset, then they will need to nullify the raucous effect of the home support and instead try to turn expectation into frustration.

"The key for us is getting through the first 20 minutes without any damage," said Cooper. "And then the first half-an-hour and then to half-time. Then we can start counting down.

"I've watched them play Leeds after Christmas and I was impressed. There aren't many weaknesses.

"We are going to have to play at 120 per cent and they are going to have to be at 70-80 for us to have any chance of getting a result.

"It's not about masterplans, or tactics. It's about what happens on the day, how much they fancy it and how much luck we have."

Longer-term, the most important clock is the one

counting down the Conference season. Survival is the be-all and end-all so Cooper is hoping the Cup exploits [2014] in some ways a welcome distraction [2014] can be transformed regularly to their league battles.

Though the Lambs are on a four-match unbeaten run, they have drawn their last three and lie in the bottom two in the table.

"This is just a break from the Conference," said Cooper.

"Whatever happens, we know that on Tuesday night we are back to earth in the Conference playing the team that's top of the table when we face Accrington. The league is the priority, full stop.