Tag Archives: FA Cup

But can the Dons do it on a rainy Friday night in Haringey?

An FA Cup clash on White Hart Lane? Not at Spurs, surely, because their new stadium remains unfinished, and it’s too soon in the competition.

Instead, the first-round action in N17’s best-known street took place at Haringey Borough FC as they hosted AFC Wimbledon on a filthy Friday night in November.

Being squashed in alongside 3,000 other spectators at The Borough’s compact Coles Park epitomises the gritty appeal of the Cup’s early rounds.

Of course, the famous trophy isn’t alien to north London, with fierce rivals Arsenal and Tottenham having won it 21 times between them.

However, in its first capital derby of the season, the competition was visiting the home of the team sitting in 18th place, in English football’s seventh tier.

Haringey were in the first round proper for the first time in their relatively short history.  Founded in 1973, the club is a year younger than Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley.

Fireworks

As that most English of footballing double acts, wind and rain, went through their paces, the question was: could the League One strugglers do it on a wet night in Haringey?

‘A hoofed clearance into someone’s back garden raised the possibility of a delighted youngster waking up to find a brand new FA Cup ball sitting on their trampoline’

Most of those in a new club record attendance of 2,710 were standing up and getting drenched, while the lucky 250 in the stand stayed nice and dry.

Many fans didn’t even hear the referee’s whistle to start the game over the rumble of buses behind the stadium and racket from a nearby firework display.

As the contest unfolded, it was difficult to tell who was the non-league team and who was the professional outfit unless you were familiar with the home and away colours.

It wasn’t exactly Man City v Liverpool, but the two teams compensated for a lack of quality with plenty of competitive spirit.

However, the shortage of skills on show made for a pretty lifeless first half, and the atmosphere suffered accordingly.

With very little to sing, chant, cheer or even swear about, at one point you could hear construction noise from Tottenham’s new ground half a mile down the road.

Excited

Haringey continued to threaten on the counter attack and could have had a penalty when winger Charley Barker was seemingly tripped in the box at the end of the first half.

Unfortunately, for the majority of the crowd, the ref though otherwise, triggering a Neil Warnock-like protest from Borough boss Tom Loizou.

It was goalless at half-time with neither team really doing anything to excite the fans, although a hoofed clearance into someone’s back garden raised the possibility of a delighted youngster waking up to find a brand new FA Cup ball sitting on their trampoline.

The second half was more of the same, although the fireworks eventually fizzled out. Whoever was putting on the display clearly realised that there wasn’t a lot to celebrate.

Despite a difference between the two teams of around 90 places in the football pyramid, there wasn’t a massive gap in quality, and a fairytale ending was looked to be on the cards as Haringey scored an amazingly well-worked goal in the 70th minute.

Maybe the Wimbledon players had seen the flag anyway, with Joe Staunton in an offside position when he received the ball, but not even a miracle ‘goal’ out of nowhere roused the crowd.

Magical

Haringey will eventually make over £100,000 from this cup tie, which can be used to improve several things to at the club.

‘Mitchell Pinnock’s winner sent Wimbledon to through to the next round and Haringey back to reality’

One thing that doesn’t need improving is their goalkeeper, Douglas Pajetat, who saved several quality shots that would have beaten many goalkeepers at the highest level.

Maybe Hugo Lloris’ understudy Michel Vorm isn’t the second best ‘keeper in White Hart Lane after all…

It looked as if it was going to take something magical to beat Haringey’s No.1 and, for Wimbledon’s travelling fans, nothing was more magical than an off-target shot deflecting past Pajetat in last minute.

If the stadium had felt quiet before, it was as if the home fans fell into a meditative silence as Mitchell Pinnock’s lucky winner sent Wimbledon through to the next round and Haringey back to reality.

The FA Cup’s Top 5 ‘Cupsets’

cupset

n. (context sports British slang English) An upset in a cup competition.

After the heroics of Lincoln City and Millwall in this season’s Emirates FA Cup, Elephant Sport delves through the archives, and looks back at our top 5 cupsets of all time.

5: Bournemouth 2-0 Manchester United – FA Cup 3rd Round – 8/1/1984

Division Three strugglers knock out holders

Third division strugglers Bournemouth, managed by fledgling boss Harry Redknapp, upset the odds as they dumped cup holders Man Utd out of the competition.

The Reds, then managed by Ron Atkinson, were rocked by goals from Milton Graham and Ian Thompson as their star studded line-up, including the likes of Arnold Muhren, Arthur Albiston and England Captain Bryan Robson, were dismantled by the Cherries.

Trouble ensued on the terraces, but Bournemouth held on to record one of the biggest FA Cup upset’s of all time, on a day billed by Harry Redknapp as “The best of my life”.

4: Leicester City 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers – FA Cup 6th Round – 10/3/2001

The tale of the Teletext striker

Record fees, big wages, cheesy medical photos and managers hanging their heads out of cars. Those are some of the answer’s you expect to receive if you were to ask the regular football fan about the transfer window.

But take a trip back in time to 2001 and things were a little different for Wycombe Wanderers. With an injury list including SIX strikers , Wycombe manager and Cup hero Lawrie Sanchez turned to Teletext to fill the breach left by his depleted forward line.

The solo reply to his message came from Roy Essandoh, a forward who’s career had taken him to Scotland and Finland, via Austria. His impact as a second half substitute would send him into FA Cup folklore and the Chairboy’s into the semi-finals.

In an action-packed game at Filbert Street, Wycombe took the lead through a Paul McCarthy strike, and whilst Muzzy Izzet equalised for the hosts, Essandoh won it for the Chairboys.

Wycombe would go on to be knocked out in the semi-finals by Liverpool, with Emile Heskey and Robbie Fowler cancelling out Keith Ryan’s opener.

On a sadder note, the world of football lost McCarthy this week aged 45 with tributes pouring in for the former Wycombe and Brighton and Hove Albion defender.

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(Video Courtesy of FA TV)

3: Lincoln City vs Burnley – FA Cup 5th Round – 18/2/2017

Non League underdogs shock Premier League opponents

Lincoln City were history-makers as they broke a record dating back to 1914 by defeating Sean Dyche’s Premier League outfit.

The Imps, managed by brothers Danny and Nicky Cowley, struck in the 89th minute through a towering Sean Raggett header to take the non-leaguers through to the 6th round of this season’s Cup, a feat that had last been achieved by non-league QPR in 103 years ago.

But the Imp’s FA Cup story didn’t start in the 5th round, as they successfully negotiated their way through rounds 3 and 4 leaving Ipswich Town and Brighton & Hove Albion in their wake.

A champagne tie at the Emirates Stadium awaits them this weekend, which will no doubt boost the finances of a club that has seemingly steered itself out of troubled waters.

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(Video courtesy of FATV)

2: Liverpool 1-2 Barnsley – FA Cup 5th Round – 16/2/2008

Lets talk about facts

Barnsley, then managed by Simon Davey, head to Anfield languishing in the lower echelons of the Championship. The 90 minutes of football that ensued would be remembered by football fans across the nation.

Already under pressure following his failure to deliver silverware at Anfield, Rafa Benitez fielded a line-up that featured international pedigree including Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, Sami Hyypia and John-Arne Riise.

However the tricky Tykes were not star-struck as they levelled the game through Stephen Foster following Kuyt’s opener.

A string of saves from former Manchester United goalkeeper Luke Steele kept Barnsley in the tie, with Brian Howard winning it in the final minute to send them into Round 6.

Whilst Liverpool’s Cup campaign faltered, the Tykes then took another Premier League scalp in the form of Chelsea.

Kayode Odejayi netted the winner to dump the holders out of the cup that day, and send the Tykes to Wembley for a semi-final showdown with eventual runners-up Cardiff City.

A year later, Davey was sacked, and following spells with non-league Darlington and Hereford, has never managed professionally since.

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(Video courtesy of BBC/Barnsley FC)

1: Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United – FA Cup Final – 5/5/1973

“There is no way that Sunderland can beat Leeds”- Brian Clough

The big-spending Leeds United of the 1970s were simply a football machine, featuring some of the country’s finest footballing talent in their ranks.

They took on lowly Second Division Sunderland, managed by the charismatic Bob Stokoe, at Wembley and what followed would be widely classed as the greatest FA Cup shock of all time, and produced Sunderland’s solitary piece of post-war silverware.

The tie would be decided by two moments of brilliance, buoyed by Leeds’ instability. Sunderland took the lead through Ian Porterfield who slammed the ball past David Harvey in the Leeds goal.

A Leeds onslaught followed, with Sunderland keeper Jimmy Montgomery pulling off a string of fine saves, including one from Leeds maverick Peter Lorimer, to keep the Mackems in the game.

Sunderland held on to take the Cup and in turn send ‘Dirty Leeds’ back to Yorkshire without the trophy that they had clinched the season before against Arsenal.

It was a result that sent shockwaves through the footballing world.

Time for more clubs to take the FA Cup seriously again

Weakened teams, poor attendances, crazy kick-off times – all featured in the FA Cup third round earlier this month, and threaten to dent its status and traditions once again as we head into the fourth round. 

Perhaps this weekend’s ties will see more clubs deciding to take football’s oldest knockout competition a bit more seriously?

Yet the temptation is clearly there for many managers to rotate, giving fringe players a chance to show what they can do, and saving their stars from fatigue and injuries, whilst keeping their main focus on maintaining their league position.

This weekend presents opportunities for Brentford, Wolves, Wigan and Wycombe to produce major upsets as they face Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Spurs respectively.

Championship side Wolves look to have a decent chance against Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp fielded a vastly changed team at home against Plymouth in the third round and paid the price as the League Two outfit earned themselves a replay, which they only lost 1-0.

Clear sign

Brentford will also be looking to spring a surprise against the Premier League’s pace-setters, and their players will be fired up to do well at Stamford Bridge.

Like Wolves, the Bees occupy the relative safety of mid-table, so if we don’t see anything from them apart from first-choice XIs giving 100% commitment to win their ties then it really will be a clear sign that the FA Cup is no longer what it was it was.

“Howe’s caution was understandable to some extent, but what is the point in having top players if you are not going to push for success with them?”

Bournemouth did their best in the last round to prove this, making 11 changes for their trip to Millwall and failing to even register a shot on target as they went down 3-0 to the League One team.

With the Cherries not threatened by relegation from the top flight, boss Eddie Howe was widely criticised for not given the Cup his best shot. Surely it was worth taking a risk?

Howe admitted: “In hindsight with the result, yes, but though I haven’t been forced, my hands are tied a little bit. We are so stretched, the Premier League is such a demanding league, we feel we need our best players available for selection.”

Mediocre

His caution was, therefore, understandable to some extent. But what is the point in having top players if you are not going to push for success with them?

Bournemouth have Jack Wilshere on loan from Arsenal for the season; why not use his abilities whilst you have him to push for success in the Cup?

Despite all the criticism Bournemouth received, it is a given that this weekend we will see another top-flight team make a similar amount of changes.

Perhaps it will lead to another upset. But what fans of smaller clubs really want to see is their team beating the best an opponent has to offer, not a mediocre second XI whose names are all greeted with a derisory ‘Who?’ when the line-ups are announced.

Maybe the FA should start handing out fines for clubs who make wholesale changes for Cup ties, though this would be tricky to regulate and enforce. Perhaps the prize money on offer should be boosted? It’s currently dwarfed by the riches available in the Premier League – even for finishing bottom of the table.

Financial benefits

But if the big clubs (or any club for that matter) want to field weakened teams in the Cup, they can, so perhaps when it happens the smaller ones should really go for it?

“Will the magic of the Cup still be the same if those upsets really don’t count for much in the scheme of things?”

Of course, no-one can blame Plymouth for seeing a draw at Anfield as the best-possible outcome; half the gate money, plus a full house and the TV cameras at Home Park for the replay. That’s serious money for a League Two club who flirted with going out of business not so long ago.

But part of me still thinks even the likes of Argyle could, in the circumstances, have really taken the game to Liverpool’s assortment of fringe players and kids.

Yes, they earned around £1m from the two ties, but it would have been good to see them muster more than a single shot on target at Anfield to add their admirable defensive display.

Plain unlucky

In the replay, an early goal from Lucas forced Plymouth to start playing, and start playing is exactly what they did, taking the game to the Reds and coming within inches of a stunning equaliser from Jake Jervis with a 12-yard scissor-kick.

Okay, so they still didn’t manage many attempts on goal, but still a lot more than they did at Anfield, where an inexperienced Liverpool side were there for the taking.

Again I don’t want to criticise them too much, and others will argue that they got their tactics spot on because Liverpool do struggle against defensive outfits as we’ve seen in the Premier League. At the end of the day, maybe they were just plain unlucky to lose out.

But let’s hope we see more clubs taking the FA Cup seriously this weekend. If they don’t, the ‘shock’ results will keep coming. But will the magic of the Cup still be the same if those upsets really don’t count for much in the scheme of things?

Why the FA Cup needs to be protected

The idea that the FA Cup is losing its status is more than just a theory; it has become an indisputable reality. Even the most extreme of romantics would admit that football’s oldest knockout competition is not what it once was.

Muscled out by the twin behemoths of Premier and Champions Leagues, and with even Championship clubs downgrading its importance, it is in the lower leagues where the Cup now finds its strongest allies.

Smaller clubs do their upmost to compensate for the neglect shown by the bigger ones, and that is why they need to be protected.

Wycombe Wanderers players reacting to getting Tottenham away in the fourth-round draw on Monday did the rounds on social media.

Ball number 18 was drawn out and they were off their chairs and into party mode. As a trip to the Lane beckons later this month, try telling the Chairboys that the magic of the Cup has faded.

Back seat

“The Cup is only devalued for Premier League clubs. The excitement is still there from the Championship down,” said Sutton boss Paul Doswell, manager of the lowest ranked club left in the draw, and it is hard to disagree with him.

Especially when Southend v Sheffield United in League One attracted more supporters (7,202) than the all-Premier League third-round tie between Hull and Swansea (6,808).

Admittedly, this was in part due to the ongoing battle between Hull fans and the club’s owners, but Premier League clubs just don’t care for it and it evidently rubs off on the supporters.

The absurd amount of cash at stake thanks to the current £5.1bn Sky-BT Sport TV deal dictates that Premier League clubs’ priorities lies with their league form.

Throw in European commitments for some of those clubs as well, and it’s not hard to see why the FA Cup has taken a back seat.

Squandered

And yet… Take Bournemouth for example, perched nicely in mid-table, seemingly safe from relegation fears but well adrift of a European place. Surely, the Cherries were in a perfect position to have a crack at the Cup.

“Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages”

Instead, manager Eddie Howe rang the changes – the whole starting XI – and they lost 3-0 away to League Two side Millwall.

Howe was berated by fans and the media for squandering what could have been a promising Cup run, but it was apparent that his and the owners priorities lies elsewhere.

Merit payments are due to every Premier League club based on league position at the end of the season, on top of their £85m equal share payout. Bournemouth currently sit in ninth place, which would secure another £24m.

To put that in perspective, the payout would yield over 12 times the amount the winner would receive for winning the FA Cup outright (£1.8m). Even nudging up to eighth would itself be worth more than that. This is huge for any club, not least for one of Bournemouth’s size.

No coincidence

Premier League clubs just aren’t bothered unless they reach the latter stages, so more needs to be done to protect the clubs that keep this competition alive.

Not scheduling Fulham away to Cardiff in an 11.30am kick-off when the earliest train arriving there from London was at 11.10am, with a 25-minute walk to the stadium.

“Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week”

A club’s fans are its most valuable asset, but they given scant regard by the FA and their broadcast partners who, let’s face it, call the tune over such scheduling madness.

It is no coincidence that all of Manchester United’s past 55 FA Cup games have been aired live on TV – a big audience is guaranteed.

But 15 minutes into their third-round tie with Reading, they were 2-0 up and the game was pretty much over. Surely other ties had the potential for more excitement and upsets?

No-win situation

Take Sutton United v Wimbledon – a ‘proper’ Cup clash that saw two smaller clubs dreaming of a lucrative fourth-round tie. But then again it wouldn’t have pulled in millions of viewers from Asia, Africa and the Far East like Jose Mourinho’s team do.

The money that  Sutton could have made had their game been televised would have been like winning the lottery for the National League outfit.

New changing rooms for the kids, suggested Doswell, along with a general revamp of the facilities and a healthier-looking budget. Man Utd got the payment instead, and it will probably just be enough to cover Paul Pogba’s wages for a week.

Of course, broadcasting – like football itself – is a business, not a charity. The BBC would argue it has a right to chase for high viewing figures in return for their investment in the FA Cup.

In their defence, imagine if they had not aired the United match and Reading had won at Old Trafford. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s impossible to please everyone all the time.

Replays

But the BBC is a publicly-funded organisation that should not be all about numbers; there needs to be a compromise. Live coverage of Sutton’s replay with Wimbledon is worth £75,000 – a quarter of their annual budget.

It should not be perceived as them doing Sutton a favour, it may not pull in a mass audience, but they would be airing a good old-fashioned cup tie with history behind both sides.

“The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake”

Replays have been on the forefront of debates and continue to divide opinions. The small teams love the revenue they generate, but the big clubs would banish them in an instant.

They bemoan the fixture congestion replays cause, hence why there has been talk of them being scrapped – further evidence of finding ways to protect the interests of bigger clubs.

Surely, a better idea would simply be to put out a strong team, which would more than likely save a tie from going to a replay in the first place.

That replay away at Old Trafford or Anfield could be the biggest day in a lot of clubs’ season – or even history – the biggest game their players have ever played in and the biggest their fans have attended.

That should not be in jeopardy for the sake of shaving a game off an elite club’s schedule. The Goliaths are somewhat to blame for the magic being lost, so the Davids need to be protected for the competition’s sake.

Review – The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal)

In September 1996 a Frenchman, so little known in English football that fans asked ‘Arsene Who?’, walked into Arsenal.

In his subsequent 20 years as manager, he transformed the club from ‘Boring Arsenal’ to a worldwide phenomenon.

A total renovation of the training, stadium, style, economics, diet and the attraction of a global audience has taken place under Wenger’s stewardship.

This fascinating era is chronicled in ‘The Wenger Revolution’ with distinctive photographs taken from inside the inner sanctum of the club by official Arsenal photographer Stuart MacFarlane while award-winning journalist and long-time supporter Amy Lawrence introduces each section to set the scene.

‘Arsene Who?’

When Wenger arrived from Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, the vast majority of the football public, Arsenal supporters and many of the players were sceptical. Could a foreign manager succeed in England?

Although he was new to almost everyone in the English game, Wenger, 46 at the time, didn’t see himself as a novice. His intellectual rigour, workaholic determination and human touch gave him the value of using his own ideas with an open mind.

“I could understand my acceptance would depend upon that mix,” he says in the book. “I didn’t want to compromise what I thought was important in order to push through the elements needed for the success. I wanted to adapt to the local culture.”

That manifested itself in the way the team evolved. By using English players with a never-say-die attitude like Tony Adams and Steve Bould, as well as the technical refinement that arrived with the likes of Patrick Vieira and Marc Overmars, Wenger’s mix came to fruition.

The most surprising thing for many people when they look back at Wenger’s first full campaign in England, was how quickly the team’s style came together.

Wenger’s ability to identify and recruit outstanding talent was paramount in them winning the double in the 1997-98 season. That general air of scepticism about the manager soon evaporated.

Unbeatable 

“You work in a job where you never really know how good you are, but I didn’t think you can do more than go a whole season undefeated. To realise that life dream is a bit frightening, but it didn’t kill my hunger.”

To complete an unbeaten season at the highest level was an ambition Wenger had harboured for many years.

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

During the 2002-03 season, Arsenal were the dominant force in the early stages. However, with his team going strong in autumn, Wenger told journalists in a pre-match press conference that his team could go a season unbeaten. “It is not impossible,” he said.

However, Arsenal lurched suddenly into a first defeat of the campaign, and the critics who thought Wenger was arrogant and disrespectful relished that loss.

After missing out on the Premier League title that season, Arsenal rallied the following year and dominated the league. Their 2-2 draw at arch-rivals Tottenham ensured they won the league and with four games to go, Wenger’s dream was near reality.

Here was the chance to make history. “Make yourself immortal,” Wenger told his players. The players didn’t miss their chance.

Trailing at half-time to already relegated Leicester City in the last game of the season, the pressure was on. The team’s outstanding will-to-win, and the class of some of its most talented components – Thierry Henry who scored the equaliser and Vieira and Bergkamp who combined for the winner – made the difference.

Wenger does not think anyone will be able to emulate the class of 03-04 as the competition is much harder, but Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ seized their moment. His controversial prediction that it was possible, mocked at the time, became a beautiful truth.

Regrets 

Wenger is one of a handful of managers who can be said to have made a truly lasting impression on the Premier League.

Throughout his time at Arsenal, Wenger has revolutionised the club. With the Frenchman at the helm, they have moved from Highbury to the Emirates, built a new training ground at London Colney whilst also winning numerous of trophies, including three Premier League titles and six FA Cups.

(Photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images)

But despite the many highs Wenger has experienced, he has also suffered much heartbreak. According to the Frenchman, the Champions League final defeat in Paris against Barcelona in 2006 will forever hurt him.

“It is my biggest regret,” he says. “I feel there was not much in it. The regret on the night is that we could not get the second goal.

“Thierry Henry, who has been magic for our club, had the opportunity to do that. We were 13 minutes away from winning the biggest trophy. Maybe I will have to die with that but it will still hurt.”

Ambitions 

Wenger typifies longevity and loyalty. Despite getting offers from the biggest clubs in the world such as Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he has stayed put.

When trophies were hard to come by after the stadium move and competition was harder due to the influx of money put into the Premier League, Wenger remained loyal and consistently got Arsenal into the Champions League each year.

Mesut Ozil reading The Wenger Revolution book

Yet he was not delivering the trophies that Arsenal fans craved, and as the voices of dissent grew louder, the FA Cup win against Hull City at Wembley in 2014, was a huge moment in the club’s history.

“Winning this FA Cup was an important moment in the life of this team. When it comes after a long time it sometimes comes with suffering. We had such a feeling of relief and happiness,” Wenger said.

After back-to-back FA Cup wins in 2014 and 2015, Wenger’s hunger for winning trophies hasn’t diminished.

He now has a team capable of challenging the big guns and he insists his commitment to the club is still the same as when he first started.

“The club has grown a lot. I am still completely committed to it every day. I am today more nervous, more keen, to win the league than when I arrived here.”

Must-buy

The book achieves what it sets out to do. With the words of Lawrence and the images of MacFarlane, ‘The Wenger Revolution’ is a must-buy for Arsenal fans – but even non-Gooners will find it fascinating.

The book’s 11 chapters each focus on a different theme or period at Arsenal under Wenger. From his arrival to the stadium move to his opinions of current and former players, the book recounts every minor detail of Wenger’s reign.

His vision for Arsenal was in place when he first arrived, and since then the club has gone on a remarkable journey and achieved great feats. Much of this would not have been possible without the determination and ambition of one man: Arsene Wenger.

The Wenger Revolution (Twenty Years Of Arsenal) is available via Amazon for £20.00. Featured image by Stuart MacFarlane 

Swapping Champions League for non-league

Champions League choices… Bayer Leverkusen v Spurs or Leicester v FC Copenhagen on TV in the comfort of my living room.

In the end, I went for neither and opted instead to catch Woking’s FA Cup replay against Torquay in the flesh.

Admittedly, the fact that Woking’s Kingfield Stadium is just 15 minutes from where I live helped to swing the decision, but ultimately it was one I didn’t regret.

Kingfield is an impressive venue by non-league standards, with one large stand and a capacity of around 6,000 – mostly standing, though.

In true football fashion, I kicked off my first-ever trip to a non-league match by heading straight to the bar for a pint of lager, followed by pie and chips.

Determined

During my fast-food workout, I watched the players warming up and immediately noted that the quality of their drills and footwork wasn’t too bad.

Having done some research, I knew a few of the Woking names likely to catch the eye, including Jake Caprice, a fleet-of-foot full-back.

“With Woking languishing near the foot of the National League, this was a much-needed victory”

Another was Charlie Carter, an industrious and playmaking central midfielder who has made his way through the academy ranks. Plus, Dennon Lewis, a young winger spending a season-long loan at Woking from Premier League outfit Watford.

Having drawn 1-1 in Devon three days earlier, Woking were determined to make an impact from the off and reach the FA Cup first round proper for just the second time in five years.

Let’s not forget, Woking have had their moments in the competition, including a giant-killing victory at West Bromwich Albion in the 1990/91 season.

Poor penalty

Non-league teams like Woking and Torquay are desperate for good cup runs, because of the potential revenue it can produce. It was evident that this was a motivating aspect in this game.

With not even 10 minutes gone, Woking had a chance to open the scoring from the penalty spot after Carter made a nuisance of himself and was brought down by opposing keeper Brendan Moore.

However, a poor penalty from Delano Sam-Yorke and a fine save from Moore kept the ball out of the net.

Torquay capitalised on this and after gaining a corner, scored from the resulting set piece. Giancarlo Gallifuoco flicked the ball onto a post and Sam Chaney was on hand score just before half-time.

Whatever Woking boss Garry Hill said at half-time seemed to work as the hosts were fast out of the blocks again, and this time it proved fruitful.

End to end

Garry Hill and the team applauding the fans at the final whistle.
Woking applaud their fans

Caprice, confirming that he has talent, was causing trouble on the wing and whipped the ball into the box. Gozie Ugwu was on hand to slide the ball past Moore and the Cards were finally level.

Five minutes later and the game was turned on its head as Woking completing their second-half comeback.

A Fabio Saraiva corner from the left was met by the head of Ugwu who looped the ball back past Moore and into the corner of the net for his second goal.

For the rest of the half, it was end to end stuff with chances for both teams – exciting to watch from a neutral’s perspective.

The game nearly took another turn in the 88th minute, with Torquay piling on the pressure and Woking looking weary.

A goal-line scramble ensued in the Woking area, with some amazing stops from home keeper Brandon Hall, aided by Caprice, who took one for the team and blocked a certain goal with his face.

With Woking languishing near the foot of the National League, this was a much-needed victory and an opportunity to progress further in the Cup.

Woking now host Macclesfield on November 5th, and with their opposition just outside the National League play-off positions, fireworks could ensue.

 

Photos courtesy of David Holmes.

Elephant Sport Podcast – FA Cup Special

Elephant Sport Podcast – FA Cup Special

In this edition of the Elephant Sport podcast, reporters Daniel Racheter and Shan Gambling sample the delights of non-league football as they embark on trips to Braintree and Burgess Hill.

Ahead of the final qualifying round of the FA Cup this weekend, Shan has an exclusive interview with ex-Brighton defender and Burgess Hill manager Ian Chapman, who gives us an insight into how important the cup is to club, manager and players.

Daniel visited Braintree Town and spoke to a season ticket holder as the club prepares for their cup match with  National League rivals Bromley.

We also look ahead to a few other FA Cup weekend fixtures, in which 32 non-league clubs will proceed to Round One proper. Clubs from the Football Leagues One and Two enter at this stage, meaning potential fixtures against the likes of Portsmouth, Bolton and Charlton to name a few.

Catch October’s Elephant Sport podcast here: [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/287032860″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”450″ iframe=”true” /]

https://soundcloud.com/sgambling1/elephant-sport-podcast-fa-cup-4th-round-qualifying-edition-2 

 

 

Eastleigh have Reason to be cheerful

Of all the stories that emerged from the FA Cup third round, Eastleigh coming close to eliminating four-time winners Bolton Wanderers was surely the pick of the bunch.

The National League promotion hopefuls led their financially-stricken Championship opponents 1-0 with three minutes remaining, only for Darren Pratley to equalise and take the tie back to the Macron Stadium for a replay.

“It’s a great place to be right now, there are a lot of happy faces around the club”

Playing a big part in Eastleigh’s fine display in classic Cup conditions (wet and very muddy) was midfielder Jai Reason, whose performance attracted plenty of post-match plaudits.

In fact the 26-year-old has been garnering attention from Football League outfits for the past few seasons, but claims to take it all in his stride.

“It’s always nice to hear, but a lot of the time it’s just rumours, although you have to be doing something right,” he told me.

“I’ll just keep my head down and keep working hard, and we’ll see whatever comes from it, but I won’t let it [the attention] distract me.”

 Hotly contested

Reason, who began his playing career at Ipswich Town, admits that promotion from the fifth tier of English football is Eastleigh’s main aim this season.

“I’ve been working for six or seven years now to work my way back. Hopefully we can make Eastleigh a Football League side”

They currently sit in fifth, holding off the fending off the likes of Dover and Macclesfield in the hotly-contested play-off positions.

“[Promotion would be] Massive,” Reason agreed. “That’s what we want, that’s what the chairman wants. He’s put all of his money into the club and that’s what we’re all going towards.

“It’s a great place to be right now, there are a lot of happy faces around the club and it’s just great to be around.”

Reason has plenty of incentive to help take the Spitfires up, after a career in the lower leagues including spells at Cambridge, Crawley and Braintree, joining Eastleigh in summer 2012.

“I’m fully focused [on the Football League], ever since I left Cambridge, I’ve wanted to get back in. I’ve been working for six or seven years now to work my way back. Hopefully we can go up and make Eastleigh a Football League side.”

Cup magic

But it’s hard to focus on the league when a FA Cup replay awaits, and Reason believes Eastleigh can head to struggling Bolton with plenty of confidence.

After all, it was his pressure that created his team’s goal in the first match when Dorian Dervite turned the ball into his own net.

“It will be tough. Obviously they’re in a bit of trouble at the moment but at the end of the day, they’re all Championship players and it will be difficult, especially at their place.

“But we’ve taken a lot of encouragement after our performance last week, and we’ll give them a good game. With a little bit of luck and the magic of the FA Cup we might just get the win, you never know in football.”

“It really depends on the frame of mind that the [Bolton] players are in. What I do know is that they’re a Championship side for a reason and we have to respect that. It will certainly be tough but I’m looking forward to it.”

Inspiration

The thought of hosting Leeds United in the fourth round will surely focus the minds of both teams, and arguably Bolton – teetering on the brink with debts of more than £170m – need the revenue even more than Eastleigh.

“If we do get past Bolton we have Leeds at home which will be another packed stadium and again another Championship side who are very good,” Reason added.

“Their stories definitely keep the fire burning in my stomach to keep striving on towards my goals”

“We’ll be very privileged to get there against a side with so much history and who are one of the biggest clubs in the country.”

If Eastleigh do get past Bolton, Reason could well be on the scoresheet. He currently has four goals and eight assists to his name in this campaign and is hungry for more. “I’m on target for my assists and I’m hoping to hit double figures for my goals come the end of the season.”

He takes inspiration from the likes of Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin as he battles to return to the Football League with the Hampshire club.

“You look at the talents of these players and you see what they’ve been through and accomplished, coming from non-league.Their stories definitely keep the fire burning in my stomach to keep on training and striving on towards my goals.”

 

 

Magic of the Cup remains intact

As a fan of both Crystal Palace and the FA Cup, nothing would be sweeter in my eyes than to see the Eagles lift the famous old trophy on May 21st at Wembley.

Yet following this season’s third round, an impassioned debate continues to rage around the country as questions are raised about the status of football’s oldest knockout competition.

“It’s hardly surprising that staying in the top flight, or striving to join it, is seen as more important by many clubs”

Teams fielding weakened line-ups and fans staying away support the rhetoric that the FA Cup is some way down the list of priorities among the nation’s footballing elite.

With the financial gain of winning the trophy a mere drop in the ocean compared to the vast riches of the Premier League, it’s hardly surprising that staying in the top flight, or striving to join it, is seen as more important by many clubs.

Among fans of my own, Twitter polls posing the question ‘Finishing 8th vs. Winning the Cup’ come close to asking us to choose financial gain and top-flight consolidation over making history.

It’s surely a sad endictment of the nation’s changing attitudes towards the game, when fans are prepared to put business strategies before the chance to create folklore for future generations

Essence of the Cup

Almost six years ago, debt-ridden Palace took on Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers in a fourth-round FA Cup tie that truly captured what the competition has been about in its long history.

“The night will live long in the memory of Eagles fans as, despite the odds, their team came away with an impressive 3-1 victory”

Palace, recently put into administration, could have been forgiven for focusing on keeping their heads above water in the Championship after a 10-point deduction left them perilously close to the drop.

On the night, however, then-manager Neil Warnock fielded the best available team possible to him, although squad was considerably depleted with injuries.

The night will live long in the memory of Eagles fans as, despite the odds, their team came away with an impressive 3-1 victory, with a seven-minute hat-trick from makeshift Striker Danny Butterfield – a right back who hadn’t scored in over two years.

Those fans can, in some ways, be forgiven for losing that same devotion to the Cup that brought some much-needed respite in a time of peril.

Allure

It’s unlikely that with their new-found status among the giants, any Palace fan could enjoy the same ecstasy of a club on its knees, fighting against the odds to come out on top.

The globalisation and growth of the Premier League has created a division so exhilarating and competitive, the FA Cup’s allure and drama is being matched by its fixtures week-in week-out.

“The celebrations did not speak of a team who have fallen out of love with the FA Cup”

And yet… The 5,000 strong, raucous support provided by Palace at Southampton shows the appetite for Cup success remains strong among the fans.

Twitter polls are obsolete in comparison to a sold-out away end on third round weekend between competitors in the same division. The spectators that day needed no respite from the league, where Palace sit prettily in seventh, and provided a ferocious backing.

Not to let the South London contingent down, manager Alan Pardew, himself remembered for a 1990 FA Cup goal by the Palace faithful, named a full-strength side, something he says he will continue to do.

Legacy

His desire to win the Cup may come from a career that ties him to the competition in Palace legend, or even pressure from the top.

Fan-turned-chairman Steve Parish is as much concerned about the financial well-being of the club as creating a legacy for him to leave behind – and FA Cup success is very much in synch with his vision.

“You don’t even have to look farther back than the previous weekend to see that the FA Cup is alive and kicking”

The hunger of the players was there for all to see at St Mary’s as Palace displayed the same grit, determination and character that has brought them so far in recent years.

It was the fourth time this season they have been pegged back after being 1-0 up and gone on to win the match 2-1.

The celebrations did not speak of a team who have fallen out of love with the FA Cup – this was only the third round, yet the passion demonstrated showed what this meant to them.

Euphoria

It’s not just Palace where this magic is still strong. Arsenal’s exploits in the last two seasons have provided unbridled euphoria for a club who, so used to winning, had failed to attain any silverware for the previous nine years. It would have been the first time some young supporters saw their club lift a trophy.

In fact, you don’t even have to look farther back than the previous weekend to see that the FA Cup is alive and kicking. Wycombe held Aston Villa to a draw, bringing about a replay that will ease their financial worries.

Exeter played superbly against a young Liverpool side in a 2-2 draw, non-league Eastleigh’s fairytale continued as they played out a 1-1 stalemate with Championship strugglers Bolton.

And Oxford United stole the headlines with a performance good enough to grace any ground in the country, turning over Premier League Swansea City 3-2.

That is where the magic lies. In many walks of life, those lower down the pyramid do not get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the best of their industry. It’s like seeing a local rock band grace the same stage as the Guns N’ Roses.

From Arsenal to Palace to Oxford, the beauty of the FA Cup is still there for all to see. Is the magic gone? Like hell it is.

Image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons