The much vaunted ‘romance of the cup’ cliche is usually dragged out in the 3rd Round when a non league side (usually from the Conference) gets pitted against a big Premier League or Championship club three or more tiers above them in the league. However, this disparity phenomenon happens in almost every round, none more so than in the 2nd and 3rd Qualifying Rounds. More often than not there are a few clubs left from the Extra Preliminary Round suddenly pitted against Conference North and South clubs, resulting in a four tier gap between opponents.
Sadly, this has not happened (yet) this season but there are still nine ties where there is a three tier gap and the smaller team is dreaming of this rare beast of an upset. The three tier upset happens only a few times a season and almost always in the Qualifying Rounds. It happened a handful of times last season, including Shortwood’s win over Aldershot, Brislington’s win over Weston Super Mare and the high profile Brackley Town defeat of Gillingham. The two lowest ranked sides left in the FA Cup in this round are both facing this challenge, both are from the 10th tier of English football and both have drawn clubs from the 7th tier. Premier League versus League 2, if you like.
And that’s not where the parallels end. Those two 10th tier clubs are both double-barrelled entities, Blaby & Whetstone and Ellistown & Ibstock, and both from the East Midlands Counties League. They have also both had the good fortune to have been drawn at home against, coincidentally, opponents from the Northern Premier League. They have also both started the season in good form, having only lost once each, and finding themselves in the upper reaches of the table where games in hand brought on by their cup runs mean both can go top if they win them.
Of the nine teams facing this three tier deficit Blaby & Whetstone are one with the biggest task. Their 2nd Qualifying Round opponents, Stourbridge, have been here before and 67 teams separate the two sides in the football pyramid. Stourbridge were big headline makers last season, getting to the 2nd Round proper, dispatching lower placed teams at a whim, and will be significant favourites to win here. Stourbridge have also started the season reasonably well, sitting just outside the play offs in the league.
Ellistown & Ibstock on the other hand have already made headlines this season with a comeback win over stricken former FA Cup giant-killers Hereford United. In this round, Ellistown have to negotiate their way past Halesowen Town who last season were themselves the victims of a minor shock, having been knocked out by Marske from a tier below them. Halesowen are also 2nd bottom of the Northern Premier League and have notched only one win in their last 7 games so potentially ripe for an upset. Their one win, however, was in the last round of the cup against a team from a division below them, which probably means Yeltz fans aren’t quite as nervous as they otherwise might have been.
There are seven other ties where Conference North/South sides face teams three tiers below them, the toughest of which is Runcorn Town’s trip to Barrow. Runcorn are struggling in the North West Counties League and Barrow are sitting 2nd in the Conference North. The clubs are separated by 81 others in the football pyramid which would be right up there with Luton beating Norwich 18 months ago. In context, last seasons’s biggest upset in terms of league places was the 64 places Brislington were below Weston Super Mare when they beat them 3-2.
The next least likely upset is Borehamwood v East Preston. The Sussex County league side will be visiting the current Conference South leaders and there is a whopping 70 league places between these two teams, although East Preston are in form and have yet to lose this season, so who knows?
Of those who you might think have a chance of an upset, Northern League side Shildon are one. Conference North side Stalybridge Celtic may be 3 tiers above Shildon but but they are away from home, struggling near the foot of the table, have won only one of their last five and have been beaten by Shildon in the FA Cup before. Conversely, the FA Cup’s premier headline making side so far this season, FC Romania, are full of confidence, flying in the Essex Senior league and face a Sutton side who are no strangers to upsets. Everyone remembers their exploits against Coventry some years ago but only four years ago they lost to Alton Town, who at the time were several tiers below Sutton in the pyramid, in the 1st Qualifying Round.
On paper, our tie of the round, however, is probably Chorley v Glossop North End. Though separated by a couple of divisions both teams are flying and GNE have won all of their away games this season (bar their draw against Northwich Victoria in the previous round), including 6-0, 7-0 and 8-0 away wins. The two met five years ago in the 1st Qualifying Round and Chorley won, just, 3-2. Chorley should still be too strong but this has the potential to be quite a game and its the FA Cup so anything can happen.
It looks like we’ll be off to FC Romania v Sutton United on Saturday and possibly Thurrock v Aveley on Sunday but why not check out our interactive fixture map if you fancy going to a nearby game.