the real fa cup

1st Round Review

FA Cup 1st Round Review
The Underdogs & Shocks

It goes without saying that each round of the FA Cup is more attentively and widely viewed than the last. However, some rounds are viewed more keenly than others. Historically, the 1st Round proper is one of those that gets serious attention. The main reason for that used to be the entry of professionalism, the once very clear delineation between amateur and pro made this a round that garnered column inches where previously there were none.

But, football’s changed and the media prism through which it is viewed has too. Gone are newspaper reports in the following day’s press, replaced by on-the-minute Twitter feeds such as ours, the non league media and indeed the Football Association’s itself. All rounds, from Extra Preliminary to 4th Qualifying are mediated fairly swiftly, often in real-time, and the markets for FA Cup betting open long before the heavyweight clubs arrive and punters have been able to check form from the early rounds.

Gone too is the obvious gap between professional football league sides and the non league game. The vast majority of National league sides are now professional and this has much to do with the teams that have sunk there rather than a simple proliferation of professionalism itself. Teams like Tranmere, who would once have been a draw to wish for non league sides’s at the 1st Round stage are now just one of a phalanx of teams the lower non league side might wish to pull in the 4th Qualifying Round.

Set against this change, a side from lower down the pyramid getting to the 1st Round is, arguably, now an increasingly impressive achievement. And two sides from the 8th tier of English football remain. Northwich Victoria and Didcot Town. With them five sides from the 7th tier. Hats off.

On Sunday Didcot hosted Exeter City who had fresh scars from a wound created this time last year by Warrington Town. The TV executives responsible for match selection got their sums right last year and a live audience saw what non league had to offer, both in the form of attacking intent and defensive solidity. This year, Exeter knew the pitfalls and guarded safely against them. Those same TV executives this year thwarted less by the recalcitrance of FC United and more by an unfussy, routine and professional job performed by Exeter as they comfortably and expectedly saw off a side four tiers below them. Final score 3-0 to Exeter City.

Meanwhile, Northwich Victoria had, on paper, the slightly easier task of trying to bring down a Borehamwood side floating, some might say, slightly above their means in the Conference but barely keeping their head above the dotted watermark of relegation. In a perhaps surprisingly even game the Vics took the lead early on from a marvellous Jordan Williams free kick but ‘Wood equalised shortly after through Junior Morias. The Northern Premier League side shaded the chances in the rest of the game, if not quite the possession, but the game still ended 1-1 with the replay on Monday 16th November.

Of the 7th tier sides left in, three of them pulled off the most eye-catching upsets of the round. Chesham United, Salford City and Stourbridge wrote themselves into FA Cup history with wins over League 2 (twice) and National League opposition respectively. This meant that three of the five 7th tier sides are in the hat for the 2nd Round which must be unprecedented. The Ryman League’s Staines Town were one of the two unlucky ones, losing 6-1 away at League 2’s Leyton Orient while Barwell lost 2-0 at home to Welling United.

The ‘media darlings’ prize for upsets went to Salford City, comfortably beating a soporific Notts County side from three tiers above them. Salford’s funding and ‘Class of 92’ co-owners meant the garnered the headlines for an impressive win but the real heroes were Chesham United. The tiny Southern League side went to Bristol Rovers and, despite missing penalty, overcame a big name 1-0 on their own ground with a Ryan Blake 25 yarder. Though holding their own with possession for most of the game, Chesham did rely on keeper Shane Gore to come up with several great saves late on.

Stourbridge’s effort, while less glamorous than their 7th tier counterparts, was just as impressive. The Northern Premier League side had travelled to a Dover Athletic team sitting 3rd in the National League and undefeated at home. Stourbridge took the lead through Chris Lait and had good chances to double their lead. Dover, though, equalised through Aswad Thomas but before they could turn it around Karl Hawley got Stourbridge’s winner from the penalty spot after being brought down by the keeper.

Elsewhere Maidstone United failed to turn the table on one of non league’s mightiest giant killers now in the football league. Yeovil were already down to 10 men when Wes Fogden put them in front and they were down to nine after keeper Krysiak rushed from his area and fouled an on-rushing forward. Maidstone failed to capitalise and exit 0-1.

National League South side Maidenhead United earned a creditable 1-1 draw at League 1 side Port Vale. The National League’s Altrincham emulated that by beating Barnsley 1-0, while Eastleigh did the same to Crewe and Aldershot held Bradford City of League 1 in  one of the dullest gams of the round.

The final headline-grabbing result was Whitehawk’s 5-3 victory over Lincoln City. Historically, these two sides are poles apart but current only one tier and 17 places separate them in the football pyramid so the result is maybe not as surprising as it may seem. Either way, is a shock and you can read a report of the game on the site (here) thanks to Lloyd Langman from The Two Unfortunates.

Replays next week, draw for the 2nd Round is here and we’ll be back with a Round 2 preview shortly.

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