There is a famous expression: “I hate to say I told you so.” Now this writer is not smug enough to present himself as an egotistical know it all, but merely a couple of weeks ago, this column suggested that there is still plenty of magic and romance left in the FA Cup. Surely this fantastic first round weekend has gone a long way to supporting such a theory.
If truth be told, it’s hard to know where to start when talking about the “giant-killing” feats of the non-league clubs. There have been a plethora of surprises this weekend which will have worked wonders for the previously ailing image of the world’s oldest knock-out competition. Saturday afternoon saw a famous victory for Staines Town over high-flying League Two side Shrewsbury as well as wins for Bath City, Oxford United and Kettering all against Football League opposition. The shocks were not over for the weekend however, with possibly the biggest result of all coming on Sunday afternoon in Cheshire. Northwich Victoria of the Blue Square North have captured the hearts of the nation, over-coming one of the strongest sides to enter in the first round.
Only a few seasons ago, Charlton Athletic were plying their trade amongst England’s elite in the Premier League. Now they find themselves battling in the top half of League One having faced cup defeat to a club over 80 places below them in the football ladder. What’s even more significant about this result is that a surprise it may well be, but it was certainly a match where both sides got what their performances warranted. The Addicks were undone by a late goal from teenage substitute Wayne Riley. No doubt he has written his name into F.A. Cup folklore.
Of course it’s not all bad news for those who have made an early exit from the cup. The big boys can nurse their bruised egos and concentrate on the league form. Many clubs will brush off their early bows from the competition, but in truth there must be a massive amount of disappointment an potentially even embarrassment. Charlton should not be embarrassed at their defeat to Northwich, more the performance that they mustered. Or perhaps that should read the lack of performance.
The draw for the second round has now taken place and the stand out tie for the non-league sides has to be the reward for Kettering overcoming Hartlepool. The Conference National side will welcome Leeds United, the biggest name presently in the competition, to their modest Rockingham Road ground, a fantastic prospect and just reward for the Poppies’ players, staff and fans. Sunday’s heroes Northwich will entertain Lincoln and will certainly fancy their chances of causing another upset. The draw also means that there will be a minimum of three non-league sides in the hat for the third round draw, with Oxford hosting Barrow, Cambridge entertaining York and either Forest Green or Mansfield travelling to Bath City. Perhaps we will get the glamour tie that everyone dreams and hopes for in the third round with a giant of the game travelling to one of the minnows who have captured our hearts.
In the Championship it was business as usual over the weekend with most games going to form. Gordon Strachan’s Middlesbrough left Crystal Palace without a point meaning that Strachan has not yet taken a point for the club. Early days of course but the Riverside faithful will want improvements soon. Ipswich were unable to build on the momentum of achieving their first three points of the season, leaving the Madejski Stadium with just a point. Reading have been suffering this season and no doubt Roy Keane would have had his heart set on three points for the Tractor Boys here. On Tyneside, it was seemingly a normal day at the office for all parties concerned, with a solid match-winning performance on the pitch but more protests against owner Mike Ashley before, during and after the game. The Magpies’ fans were never going to take to kindly to the renaming of the stadium and they made their feelings known, (as if everyone wasn’t already aware of their anger) as they called for Ashley to stop destroying their club. Surely just another case of sticks and stones for their owner, but perhaps something will have to give in the north-east soon.
News and views from the Football League
Keane for more time to prove himself – October 5
It’s a funny old game – October 8
A new owner does not guarantee success – October 12
Tied up in Notts – October 16
Climbing the Football League ladder – October 19
League structure in need of resuscitation – October 21
There is still magic in the cup – October 26
Blink and you’ll miss it – October 29
Middlesbrough’s Strachan disproves ‘New Manager Syndrome’ – November 2
All eyes on Wales as Derby-day approaches – November 5
Still magic in the Cup yet – November 9