So, not the most glorious weekend for Non-League clubs in this year’s FA Cup second round, with only one club definitely through to the Third Round and three others who took League teams to a replay in vain.
Eastleigh, of course, are in the third round for the first time in their history and are the only non-league club to make it that far this season, and they should be commended for being so, but as great an achievement as that is, we would have been saying the same about Stourbridge if they had won their match. And the Spitfires were favourites of the two to progress anyway. Stourbridge can console themselves with having equalled their own best performance in the FA Cup for the third time in five seasons.
Salford City, now officially the lowest placed side left in the competition and Whitehawk, both brilliantly came from behind against League opposition (Hartlepool United and Dagenham & Redbridge respectively), the latter in dramatic fashion deservedly equalising in injury time, to live to fight another day. Both will be hoping to have the added incentive of a Premier League club to drive them to victory over their respective League Two opponents in their replays. Both these clubs have already set new personal bests in the FA Cup just by being in the Second Round, but making it to the glamour of the Third Round would be something else. The Ammies finally went down to two extra time goals, but the players and the club can be proud of setting a new personal best in the FA Cup reaching the Second Round, three rounds further than their previous best. The Hawks also finally lost 3-2 in extra time after once again equalising in injury time of the replay. Like Salford City, Whitehawk has also set a new personal best in the Cup having only ever reached the 4th Qualifying Round previously.
The fourth non-league club still in the proverbial hat is former League club Grimsby Town, who won’t actually kick-off their Second Round tie until after the Third Round draw has been made. It’s a less than satisfactory way of making it to the Third Round draw, but they will go into their game against Shrewsbury Town knowing who their likely opponents would be if they won. As they beat Shrewsbury 4-0 last time they met in 1997/98 season, The Mariners might be quietly confident of joining Eastleigh. As it happened the first game ended goalless. In the end the Mariners were undone in the replay by an injury time winner for Shrewsbury.
There were a couple of oh-so-nears and heartbreak for non-league clubs as both Northwich Victoria and Altrincham both fell to last minute winners after previously having been ahead during the match. The Vics had led 2-0 and were looking to be the first eighth tier club to make the Third Round since Chasetown in 2008, but in the end Northampton Town turned it around in the last 10 minutes. Still, seven FA Cup ties in one season is still more than the eventual winners will compete in. Altincham had led Colchester United twice, scoring goals at the beginning of each half, only to be pegged back almost straight away both times. A golden opportunity missed at the end of the match was punished in the cruellest of fashions as Colchester went down the other end to score the winner.
Chesham United and Welling United will both have heavy defeats on their respective FA Cup records (4-0 at Bradford City and 5-0 versus Carlisle United respectively), but final scores can often belie what has actually gone on in the match itself. Sure, in both instances the League sides were always the better of the two teams throughout each game, but it wasn’t until fairly late on that the games were out of the reach of the non-league club. And Forest Green Rovers gave a good account of themselves against League Two leaders Oxford United going down 1-0 but coming close to scoring on several occasions.
There were still a couple of surprising results over the weekend despite the lack of non-league giant killing. Wycombe Wanderers from League Two beat Millwall from League One .. again. The last time they met in the FA Cup was 2000/01 season, the last time that Millwall failed to go beyond the Second Round. League Two side Exeter City also won 2-0 against League One Port Vale to participate in the Third Round for the first time in 11 years. The Grecians have now won one more FA Cup tie this year than in the last seven years put together. Bottom of League Two Yeovil Town put their league form behind them to progress 1-0 at the expense of Stevenage, and Bury won 1-0 at fellow League One side Rochdale to make it to the Third Round for the first time in eight years. Newport County won 1-0 as well at fellow League Two side Barnet, to move the Exiles into the Third Round since the club re-formed in 1989, and lay to rest the ghost of the 6-1 defeat of the original club by Barnet in 1970 when the Bees were a non-league side, the second biggest margin of victory by a non-league club over a League one.
All the other ties where there was a winner might have been expected. Peterborough United dominated in their 2-0 home win over Luton Town to avenge their defeat by the same opponents in the Third Round 33 years ago when The Hatters were a top flight team. Portsmouth beat Accrington Stanley 1-0, Pompey being another club who have won more FA Cup ties this year than they had done over the past six years, and Sheffield United beat Oldham Athletic by the same scoreline. The Blades have one of the best winning ratios in the FA Cup over the past five years, never failing to make the 4th Round as a third tier club, with only Arsenal winning more ‘Proper’ round FA Cup matches over that same period. Doncaster Rovers came from behind against lower league opponents Cambridge United, but in the end won comfortably.
League Two Leyton Orient will get another chance to cause an upset against League One Scunthorpe United, but the League One side proved too strong in the replay winning 3-0, and Chesterfield and Walsall will go again after drawing one each. These two sides are no strangers in the FA Cup having met six times previously in the competition, but Walsall have the upper hand having won the previous five. Walsall made it six FA Cup wins to one with a 5-3 penalties win after the sides were locked at 0-0 after 120 minutes in the replay.
So not a vintage FA Cup year for non-league clubs, but with luck others will join Eastleigh to keep the romance of the competition alive. Otherwise it’ll be the south coast club left to fly the non-league flag.