Twenty Premier League clubs and 24 EFL Championship clubs are joined in the 3rd Round by 13 EFL One sides, 5 EFL Two clubs and two non-league sides; Barnet from the National League, and Woking from National League South (the lowest ranked club in this year’s 3rd Round). Two non-league sides in the 3rd Round is obviously better than the none that made it last season, but it has also only ever been lower on a dozen occasions since the current format of the FA Cup was put in place in 1925-26.
There are 29 former FA Cup Winners in this year’s 3rd Round (almost half of them face another former winner), 13 other clubs who have made the Final in the past but who have not yet lifted the Trophy, five clubs whose best runs have been to the Semi-Finals, eight teams who have only ever gone as far as the Quarter Finals, three clubs who’ve reached the 5th Round, four sides who’ve only ever made it as far as the 4th Round, and two clubs who are equalling their best ever FA Cup run by appearing in this year’s 3rd Round.
AFC Wimbledon are one of those two clubs although, of course, Wimbledon famously lifted the Trophy in 1988. As fate would have it the Dons travel to the other club who have never gone beyond the 3rd Round before, Fleetwood Town, thereby meaning at least one team will set a new FA Cup record for themselves.
Current FA Cup holders Chelsea also hold the current best record of successive seasons making it through to the 4th Round. It is 21 years since the Blues last tasted defeat in the 3rd Round. Ironically, they face Nottingham Forest in this year’s 3rd Round, who last season defeated the holders, Arsenal, who had previously held the longest current successive seasons of reaching the 4th Round.
It is only the fourth time in FA Cup history that the first game in the following season’s competition for the holders of the FA Cup has been against the same opponents in two successive seasons. In 1931 Aston Villa lost to holders Arsenal then beat West Bromwich Albion in 1932. In 1934 Tottenham Hotspur beat holders Everton and followed that up with victory over Manchester City in 1935. In both 1978 and 1979 third tier Carlisle United made it through to the 3rd Round only to lose to the holders Manchester United in 1978 and the holders Ipswich Town in 1979.
Liverpool (last 3rd Rd defeat in 2011) and Manchester City (last 3rd Rd defeat in 2012) are the only other clubs defending significant runs of successively making it to the 4th Round.
Conversely, there are several clubs for whom it has been a while since tasting victory in the 3rd Round. For clubs below the top two divisions it is not uncommon for them to have not appeared in the 4th Round for a while. For Grimsby Town it is 19 years, for Gillingham and Tranmere Rovers it is 15 years, and for Doncaster Rovers it is nine years. The two remaining non-league sides have both only ever gone as far as the 4th Round in the past. For Barnet it is 11 years since they last did so, whereas for Woking they have only ever done so once in their 104 FA Cup campaigns to date, 28 years ago. Their match-up with Watford in this year’s 3rd Round is the biggest gap between two sides of the Round and would represent the ‘shock of the round’ should Woking find themselves in the 4th Round.
Three EFL Championship clubs, however, are on current unwanted runs of no FA Cup wins at all. Rotherham United have failed to win an FA Cup tie for five years and Norwich City have failed to do so for six seasons. However, not only are Norwich City not the club with the worst current FA Cup record in the country, they are not even the club with the worst current FA Cup record in East Anglia! It is nine years since their local rivals, Ipswich Town, last won an FA Cup tie.
No mention of poor current FA Cup form could pass without including both Newcastle United and Queens Park Rangers. Newcastle United have had only five FA Cup victories in the last dozen seasons, whilst QPR have only managed four FA Cup wins over the last 21 years.
Just nine of this year’s 3rd Round ties pit sides who’ve never faced each other in the FA Cup before. Of those other 23 ties where clubs have met in the competition in the past, eight of them involve clubs who’ve met just once before. The longest wait for an FA Cup re-match is between Crystal Palace and Grimsby Town. Their only previous FA Cup meeting came in the 1907-08 season. Crystal Palace have had to wait 111 years for the opportunity to avenge that 1-0 defeat.
The most common match-up in this year’s FA Cup 3rd Round is between Manchester United and Reading who are meeting in the competition for the fourth time in 13 seasons, and are drawn together for the 10th time in total. Not really the draw Reading wanted as in the previous nine encounters the Royals have won just the once, in what is one of the most one-sided match-ups in FA Cup history.
Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers have been drawn together for the ninth time (in what is being described as the Alan Shearer derby) with Newcastle United triumphant in 75% of their previous head-to-heads in the competition. The third most common tie is between Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanders, and surprisingly it is the West Midlands team who have the better win ratio in past encounters, four wins to two.
Other surprising past FA Cup head-to-head ratios are: EFL One sides Gillingham and Blackpool have both won two of their three previous encounters against their respective Premier League opponents, Cardiff City and Arsenal; EFL One side Portsmouth won their only previous FA Cup encounter with EFL Championship club, Norwich City, winning a replay 69 years ago; and EFL Championship club, Derby County, have won all three of their previous FA Cup meetings with Premier League side, Southampton.
One past head-to-head record in the FA Cup that has definitely gone as expected is that between Tottenham Hotspur and Tranmere Rovers. The clubs actually drew their first meeting in 1953 but the 9-1 victory for Spurs in the replay that season remains the heaviest FA Cup defeat ever for Tranmere Rovers. Spurs also won their only other FA Cup encounter 4-0 in 2002.
A victory for Accrington Stanley over Ipswich Town (a likely outcome given Ipswich’s recent FA Cup record) would equal the best ever FA Cup run for the Lancashire club, not only for the current incarnation, but also for any club who has ever represented the town in the past. Newport County will be hoping they can at least match the best FA Cup run to the 5th Round achieved by the original club in 1949. A current quirky trend suggests they might do it, given that the Exiles recent FA Cup record has seen them progress one round further than the previous year for the last four seasons (1st Rd in 2014-15, 2nd Rd in 2015-16, 3rd Rd in 2016-17 and 4th Rd last season).
A few clubs are celebrating FA Cup milestones this season. Huddersfield Town are competing in the FA Cup for the 100th time whilst both Preston North End and Lincoln City are participating in the competition for the 125th time each.