The Premier League is about to dive headfirst into its condensed Christmas schedule, but underneath the top tier plenty of teams are still competing for the right the play one of the big boys in the FA Cup.
The competition began at the beginning of August with the Extra Preliminary Round, and now only 40 teams from non-league and Leagues One and Two remain. The ultimate prize for the non-league sides left in the draw will be a potentially lucrative 3rd Round contest with one of the Premier League’s big clubs. They’ll have to safely navigate round two before this dream can become a reality. There are also several former winners of the FA Cup taking part in the 2nd Round this weekend, and they’ll all be aiming to relive some of their glory days with a run to the latter stages. The 2nd round is full of interesting match-ups even though teams from the Premier League and The Championship won’t join the fun until January.
There are 10 non-league teams left in the competition at this stage. Sadly, for those who want to see one of them take on a top flight side in January, all 10 sides have been drawn against League opposition. There are three teams in the draw from level seven of the pyramid. Leatherhead are currently the lowest ranked of these sides, and play in the Bostik Premier Division. The Tanners won a televised replay against league rivals Billericay Town to get through the 1st Round. Leatherhead face a tricky visit to League Two promotion chasers Wycombe Wanderers.
The other two teams from level seven are Slough Town and Hereford FC. Slough will be at home against Rochdale from League One, a game that will be televised on Monday night. The match will be Slough’s seventh time in the 2nd Round, and they’re yet to make it through to the next stage. Hereford, on the other hand, is a much more familiar name to FA Cup fans. Hereford United went bust in 2014, but famously knocked Newcastle out of the cup in 1972. The phoenix club, Hereford FC, are in the competition for only the second time.
Woking, Maidstone United, Guiseley, Gateshead, AFC Fylde, Oxford City and Boreham Wood from the National League are the other non-league sides left in the draw. Of these sides, only Gateshead, AFC Fylde and Woking have home ties. Woking and AFC Fylde are up against Wigan from League One, and Gateshead face goal machine and League Two leaders Luton Town.
Charlton Athletic, Bradford City, Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, Notts County and Coventry are all former FA Cup winners, playing in the 2nd Round this year. Wigan, who won the cup in 2013, will kick things off as they visit AFC Fylde on Friday evening. The Latics have been in excellent form this season and are the highest ranked side in this stage of the competition. Coventry and Notts County also face non-league opposition as they entertain Boreham Wood and Oxford City respectively.
Bradford City, currently in the play-off places, welcome Plymouth Argyle to Valley Parade. The Devon based side are currently bottom of League One. The Bantams have made headlines in cup competitions in recent years having knocked Chelsea out of the FA Cup in 2015 and reached the League Cup Final in 2013. Blackburn and Charlton both have local cup derbies to look forward too. Blackburn entertains Crewe Alexandra, currently nineteenth in League Two. Charlton visit London League One rivals AFC Wimbledon in what is one of the most interesting looking match-ups. Wimbledon will be looking to reach the 3rd Round for the third time in four seasons.
Game of the round and potential upsets
Slough Town v Rochdale, Woking v Peterborough and MK Dons v Maidstone United look like the most likely opportunities for upsets. Slough has only been beaten twice in the Southern Premier this season and looks like a National League side in waiting. Rochdale, on the other hand, has had a patchy run of form in League One. Woking and Maidstone are both in the top half of the National League table and face League One sides that have been a little inconsistent of late.
Gateshead v Luton would be my tip for a potential tie of the round. Gateshead has had a mixed season so far in the National League, but will enjoy home advantage against free-scoring Luton. The hatters will be focused on the league this season and could take their eyes off the ball during the long trip up to the North East.
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