Thursday, 19 October 2006

FA Cup: 1st round or bust

After last weekends ties (one of which will be documented here shortly), 64 teams are left from the non-league ranks ready to battle it out in the fourth qualifying round on Saturday week for a place in the first round proper. Your hobo has been following the FA Cup from its opening Extra Preliminary Round but who now remains in the competition from those that took part in the junior kickstart back in mid August? Well, there are three, Whitley Bay (more on them later); Hungerford Town, who will need to overcome an in-form Weymouth at home to advance; and Haverhill Rovers, who have also been drawn at home to a formidable Conference side, in their case Aldershot. I think they call that tough love.

From the 4th qualifying round ties, we note there will be a guaranteed 14 balls in the 1st round sack that will be attached to sides from below the national Conference. Of the Conference sides who may not get an easy ride, I’d reckon Grays and Exeter will be pleased they at least managed home draws against Bromley and AFC Wimbledon respectively, while Kettering will fancy their chances at Southport. Another intriguing tie will be Northern League Newcastle Benfield (Bay Plastics) hosting York City. Yeading, who made it to the third round and a home tie with Newcastle United two seasons ago are still in the hunt, while the current top two in the Conference, Dagenham & Redbridge and Oxford United will face off. Arguably the two strongest sides in Conference South, Fisher and Salisbury, will also be playing each other.

Hobo Tread started its FA Cup stroll at Garforth Town, but they didn’t last much longer, going out in the following round to Chorley. Indeed on that strand of the Wembley-bound road, no-one kept the baton for more than a single game, until this round where Northern League Whitley Bay put out local Conference North rivals Blyth Spartans after a replay, making a mockery of the three division gap that has grown between them. With nudging towards 4,000 watching over the two games, it was undoubtedly tie of the round. Last season, Blyth lost to Chasetown on the latter’s way to a date with Oldham Athletic and the BBC Sunday lunchtime audience so maybe that could be an omen for Whitley Bay. It will be another Conference North side, Gainsborough Trinity, that stand in the way of Whitley progressing to, who knows, maybe another derby with Hartlepool or Darlo. If any of the three left from the very start are to get through, Whitley are without doubt the most likely.

We have also journeyed with Fleetwood Town who, after coming in at the 1st qualifying round stage, have managed their fourth successive home draw and, with lowly Eastern Counties League Wisbech Town their final barrier, I’d fancy them to make it through. Am sure they’d like a fifth home tie, especially if it was with Blackpool.

As for Havant & Waterlooville, well, we’ve got a great opportunity, drawn away to Brackley Town, from two divisions below us. The warning to our players is the cup has seen us slip on lower division banana skins for the last three years. Then again in our dressing room we have Rocky Baptiste, who scored for Farnborough when they went to Highbury for a 3rd round game a couple of years back. Hopefully he can impart some wisdom as to what rewards are potentially there for one last push into what they call the ‘proper’ stuff. Also, after two first round appearances in our short existence post-merger, that have only thrown up fellow non-league opposition, surely we’ve paid our dues? We have to be mindful of underestimating Brackley, but there has never been a better time and, frankly, I can smell the Rochdale. A worrying amount of confidence going on in your hobo, who, barring postponement, will report from Brackley in a couple of weeks.

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