FA Cup: My road to the third round
- Credit: Lee Power
The third round of the FA Cup takes place this weekend, with 64 teams contesting 32 ties over the course of four days, still dreaming of a Wembley final.
A grand total of 737 clubs entered this year’s competition, which began back on August 31 with the first of 184 extra qualifying round ties.
Woodford Town claimed a 3-1 win over London Colney – which, ironically enough, is home to the training base of holders Arsenal – and I began my own ‘Road to Wembley’ some 24 hours later in leafy Dorset.
I had decided to try and attend/watch a match in each round all the way up to the 2021 final, where possible given restrictions in place to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a brief round-up of my journey so far.
Extra preliminary round, September 1: Sherborne Town 2 Street 1
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It began around 20 miles from my own front door at the Consol Stadium, where the Dorset League Zebras hosted the Western League Cobblers in front of a reduced capacity crowd.
And barely two minutes had been played when Haydn Hodges sent in a deep free-kick from the right for Dan Newens to nod home at the far post.
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Visiting keeper Liam Norris was left red-faced on the half-hour mark as he let a shot from Hodges squirm through his hands and legs to make it 2-0.
And although Street captain Kam Andrews halved the deficit midway through the second half with a neat finish, the home side held on for a scalp and £1,125 in prize money.
Preliminary round, September 12: Bridgwater Town 2 Bitton 3
Despite the R rate being back above 1 in the UK, lower-level football was able to continue with small, socially-distanced crowds so I headed to Fairfax Park, some 15 miles from home.
Bitton had lost an FA Vase semi-final up in Durham a week earlier and, as the new Premier League season kicked off elsewhere, their Toolstation Western League Premier Division rivals took the lead on 16 minutes as Tom Ellis thumped home a header from Jake Llewellyn’s corner.
Mike Duffy doubled the advantage three minutes later, after putting pressure on keeper Rob Brown on the edge of the box, and only a goalline clearance denied Adnan Hiroli a third on 52 minutes.
Bitton broke upfield and Liam Bishop drove home their first, with Joe McLennan sweeping home an equaliser little more than a minute later.
Ash Kington’s fine free-kick midway through the half completed the comeback as Bitton banked £1,444 in prize money.
First qualifying round, September 22: Taunton Town 5 Wantage Town 0
A 12-mile, Tuesday night trip to the Cygnet Health Care Stadium produced another five-goal feast, as the Southern League Premier Division Peacocks progressed.
Test events elsewhere had been stopped, with the proposed return of fans to bigger stadia on October 1 also shelved, but 300 capacity crowds were still allowed.
And the home fans were delighted to see Dan Sullivan fire home the opener from 30 yards and Toby Holmes tuck home a close-range second just before the break.
Supporters were reminded of the need to stick to the ‘rule of six’ and social distancing during the interval, with Holmes steering home his second and Taunton’s third on 56 minutes.
Substitutes Owen Howe and Dan McBeam got in on the act with impressive finishes as Taunton took the £2,250 on offer.
Second qualifying round, October 3: Weston 2 Swindon Supermarine 2 (4-2 pens)
Work met pleasure as I headed to the Optima Stadium to cover this match in an official capacity for the Weston Mercury.
Persistent rain led to puddles forming on the pitch, but the sides splashed their way through them to conjure up an entertaining contest.
Ryan Hooper’s penalty put Supermarine ahead on nine minutes, but the Seagulls levelled three minutes before half-time through Nick Symons.
And after Conor McDonagh restored Swindon’s advantage midway through the second half, Sam Avery smashed home a late leveller to set up a penalty shoot-out, with young Ryan Jones converting the decisive spot-kick to bank £3,375.
Third qualifying round, October 13: Christchurch 1 Dulwich Hamlet 1 (1-3 pens)
Circumstances prevented me physically attending a match this time around, so I tuned into the BBC I-player coverage of ‘the biggest match in Christchurch’s 135-year history’.
Having already upset National League North side Gloucester City in the previous round, from three tiers higher, the Wessex League hosts had a let-off when Leon Moore hit the crossbar early in the second half.
But they kept the scoreline blank and saw Hamlet’s Quade Taylor dismissed five minutes from time for a ‘dangerous challenge’ in midfield.
However, Moore put the 10 men ahead on 88 minutes, only for substitute Josh Kirkham to level with a looping header in stoppage time.
Charlie Grainger saved three out of four Christchurch penalties faced, though, and Sanchez Ming stroked home the decisive spot-kick as Dulwich added £5,625 to their coffers.
Fourth qualifying round: October 24, Yeovil 3 Dover 3 (7-6 pens)
With a new tier system in place across the country to try and help slow the spread of coronavirus, I paid £9.99 to watch a livestream of this tie.
Technical errors meant I missed Rhys Murphy’s 11th-minute opener, after which we were invited to view the action for free through Yeovil’s YouTube platform, with a refund promised.
Murphy volleyed home a second from a corner, but the visitors rallied before the break with a brace from 19-year-old striker Louis Collins to level.
Joe Quigley headed the Glovers back in front just three minutes into the second half, but Dover squared it up again just past the hour through TJ Bramble to set up a third successive shoot-out.
The first 13 spot-kicks were converted, before Adam Smith saved from Marshall Wratten to earn Yeovil victory and £9,375.
First round – November 7: Colchester 1 Marine 1 (3-5 pens)
Although England was back in lockdown, I was sat in the stands with other media at the Jobserve Community Stadium to witness a notable FA Cup upset.
Northern Premier League side Marine took the lead after 21 minutes on a bitterly cold day when defender Anthony Miley turned the ball home after Dean Gerken had saved Josh Hmami’s free-kick.
But League Two Colchester got back on level terms just past the hour mark through captain Tom Pell and almost won it late in extra time when Michael Folivi’s header was cleared off the line.
Josh Bohui then missed the target from the spot and Michael Howard won £16,972 for Marine, despite there being four tiers and 89 places between the clubs in the football pyramid.
Second round – November 28: Mansfield Town 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 1
It was back to a BBC livestream to watch my home-town club Dagenham & Redbridge seek another upset, having knocked out Grimsby Town in the previous round.
Daggers had seen a National League fixture with Stockport postponed due to positive Covid tests, but Paul McCallum put them ahead at Field Mill with a superb strike on 19 minutes.
Their joy was shortlived as Henry Charsley levelled for the Stags just seven minutes later, but they almost snatched victory in injury time as Luke Croll headed just over from a Sam Deering free-kick.
Another penalty shoot-out was looming when, in the dying seconds of extra time, Nicky Maynard scuffed the ball home at the far post after earlier shots had been blocked, earning his side £25,500 in prize money and breaking the hearts of Daggers fans watching online everywhere.