FOR Aldershot Town fans, there's no such thing as an easy passage to the FA Cup first round it seems.

Battles against Dover and Crawley spring to mind, but one thing is for sure, fourth qualifying round weekend has proved to be one of the highlights of the season in recent years.

But if you thought previous encounters were tough, then you haven't seen anything yet.

This Saturday sees the Shots entertain, arguably, the biggest club in non-League for a place in the first round and a chance of drawing another Exeter or Bristol Rovers in round one.

Indeed, if Aldershot need the perfect incentive to go on even further in the world's greatest cup compeition, then they only need look as far as Saturday's opponents, Dagenham & Redbridge.

The last two seasons has seen the Daggers take on Premiership giants Charlton Athletic and First Division Ipswich Town, and go mightily close to producing one of the biggest upsets in memory.

A crowd of around 3,000 is expected to turn up on Saturday to see just how good the Terry Brown regime is. League form may have been impressive overall and promotion to the Conference a distinct possibility, but this is his team's big test, against a side who, but for a better goal difference, would have been competing in Nationwide League division three this year.

Finishing second to Boston United in the Conference last year by the narrowest of margins was heartbreaking for Garry Hill's men, but it did confirm them as THE major force in the non-League game and the benchmark for clubs like Aldershot to focus their ambitions on.

Shots assistant boss Stuart Cash enjoyed some memorable clashes against the Daggers during their championship year in the Ryman League three years ago, and knows all about their strengths.

He said: "This is one of the toughest games we could have possibly had. Dagenham are a big, strong side and a good footballing team also. Garry Hill is a good manager and a good friend of mine, so we know what to expect on Saturday.

"We must get through to the first round of the FA Cup this year for financial reasons more than anything. It's a milestone for us and we've stressed that to the lads. They are looking forward to the game and looking to make names for themselves.

"Our main problem is getting key injuries back into contention for Saturday. If we can do that then there is no reason why we can't go out there and beat Dagenham. We responded well against a supposedly stronger side than us in Farnborough, and the boys are desperate to brush aside our recent defeats in the league and prove they can do it again."

Despite their high-profile status, Dagenham have not enjoyed the best of starts. They currently sit 14th in the Conference table with 21 points from their 16 games, and have suffered four defeats on the road, including a 1-0 reverse down the road at Farnborough and a 5-1 drubbing by Doncaster.

But they have picked up a bit recently, gaining a victory and two draws in their last three Conference league games, and had valuable big match practise on Tuesday night when they entertained Kidderminster in the LDV Vans Trophy, losing 3-1.

It isn't just Hill and Cash who are aware of each other's credentials — there are other links between these two sides which will only intensify the rivalry further.

Shots keeper Nikki Bull spent three years working under the coaching of Daggers number one, Tony Roberts at Queens Park Rangers and there is a huge mutual respect there.

Roberts also has a lifeline buddy in Karl Ready as the pair played for Rangers and travelled to Wales internationals together.

Paul Buckle is also well aware of the Daggers. He was in the Exeter side which lost a second round proper encounter 3-0 at the Victoria Ground last season.

Spare a thought though for Shots full back Dean Hooper, who would have been facing his former team mates for the first time this Saturday, but for his sending off at Aylesbury which culminated in a three-match ban and only ends after the game.

The good news for Daggers this Saturday is the return of both former Chelsea hitman Mark Stein and giant defender Ashley Vickers from suspension.

Stein, the second top scorer in the Conference last season, despite approaching his 37th birthday, is likely to be drafted straight in to partner either on-loan Gary Fletcher from Leyton Orient, or Saturday's two-goal hero Junior MacDougald.

This will allow ex-Woking man Steve West to drop back into defence to partner skipper Lee Matthews and Mark Smith, while Mark Janney and on-loan Paul Mayo operate the flanks. Neither Mayo or Fletcher can be cup-tied.

Brown does not have that luxury. He will be sweating on the fitness of key players Karl Ready, Dominic Sterling, D'sane and Anthony Charles, while the injured Lee Charles and Jason Cousins join Hooper on the sidelines.