With the nights drawing in, the icy breeze whipping around the stands and the floodlights working overtime, England enters the depths of winter. Alongside the cold weather, the FA Cup takes centre stage through the winter months with the next three rounds all taking place before February.
The First Round brought us more of the drama, excitement and bizarre stories that we have come to expect from the famous competition. From a fan reading a book in the stands, to a 43-year-old player-manager taking the field, to numerous pitch invasions, we saw it all. We were also treated to some bizarre goals including a ‘keeper hammering the ball against an onrushing striker, and a weird acrobatic effort from a player who was lying on the ground.
The Second Round, which takes place this weekend, is the last before the top two divisions enter the competition. Extra incentive therefore, for those remaining to give that little bit more, knowing that a win could result in one of those dream ties we saw the likes of Cambridge United, who played Manchester United, embark on last year. Starting our preview with the U’s, they will take on League One Doncaster, knowing that a victory may offer them a chance to repeat last year’s trip to Old Trafford.
Salford remain the romantic choice of following for neutrals at this stage in the tournament. Following their impressive First Round defeat of Notts County, the Greater Manchester club will remain at home to face League Two’s Hartlepool United in the Second Round. The club, well publicised for being run by five members of Manchester United’s ‘Class of ‘92’ have benefitted from a recent BBC documentary, and all the above has raised the profile of the Northern Premier League side.
Their performance in the First Round drew almost unanimous praise, with their energy and quality far outweighing their lowly league status. Whilst at one end, substitute Richie Allen’s stunning solo effort wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Premier League, Steve Howson’s goal-line clearance defied logic and physics, with the defender clawing the ball away from a seemingly impossible angle.
Elsewhere, arguably the biggest shock of the First Round saw Northwich Victoria of the Northern Premier League First Division North beat National League side Boreham Wood 2-1 in a replay. Their reward is a trip to League Two side Northampton, who sit in the top-three and have just had their off-field financial issues solved by Kelvin Thomas’ takeover. There are four divisions between these sides but the Cobblers will be confident of advancing as they are unbeaten in eight and have won their last five.
Further non-league action sees Stourbridge of the seventh tier take on Eastleigh, once again knowing that victory will serve as the chance to meet a Premier League side in the next round. Stourbridge overcame Dover 2-1 away from home, while a late penalty from National League side Eastleigh saw them defeat League One strugglers Crewe Alexandra.
Chesham’s victory against Bristol Rovers has not only brought them a Second Round tie against last year’s heroes Bradford, but also saw veteran Barry Hayles take to the field aged 43. Beating the team 75 places above them, they take their place in the Second Round for the first time since 1980, and the fixture gives journeyman Hayles a chance to play himself once again for the lower league side.
So what will the Second Round bring us? Will we see a goal as curious as Kyle Vassell’s for Dagenham & Redbridge in their victory over Morecambe? Lying on the ground, on the goal-line but facing away from the goal, Vassell pinched the ball between his ankles and lifted it backwards over his head into the net. The result of this victory is a home tie against National League South side Whitehawk, who beat Lincoln City 5-3 in the joint-highest scoring match of the First Round, alongside Colchester’s 6-2 victory over Wealdstone.
Unsurprisingly, this is the first time the East Brighton club have reached this stage of the competition, but they will go to London knowing an upset could be on the cards with the Daggers struggling in League Two having won just two of their opening 20 matches.
Also in the capital, National League side Welling United face Carlisle United at Park View Road.
Despite sitting 19th in the fifth-tier, the hosts have reached this stage after defeating Grays Athletic and Barwell in previous rounds, whilst their Cumbrian visitors, who are in the top-six in League Two and have lost just one of their previous eight matches, are looking to get to the Third Round after impressively seeing off Plymouth 2-0 at Home Park.
We also need to mention the recent winners Portsmouth, who face a tough task to get into the third round when they welcome Accrington Stanley to Fratton Park.
Stanley, who have the second best away record in the fourth-tier, have won five of their last six matches and are fourth in League Two, one point above the 2008 FA Cup winning hosts who have won just two of their last eight matches and secured three victories from 10 in front of their own fans.
Whatever the year, and whatever the fixtures, the FA Cup continues to deliver excitement and drama in equal measure. There is no cup competition quite like it, and once again part-timers will pit their wits against established professional footballers.
FA Cup Second Round Matches:
Bradford City v Chesham United
Barnet v Newport County
Peterborough v Luton
Portsmouth v Accrington Stanley
Stourbridge v Eastleigh
Northampton Town v Northwich
Exeter v Port Vale
Cambridge United v Doncaster Rovers
Grimsby v Shrewsbury
Yeovil Town v Stevenage
Rochdale v Bury
Welling United v Carlisle
Leyton Orient v Scunthorpe
Millwall v Wycombe
Colchester United v Altrincham
Chesterfield v Walsall
Sheffield United v Oldham
Salford City v Hartlepool
Dagenham & Redbridge v Whitehawk
Oxford v Forest Green