Midweek Muse: The lower division sides capable of facing football heavyweights in FA Cup third round

The FA Cup second round takes place across this weekend, and clubs from the English lower divisions and non-league will be facing off for the right to a shot at a big payday against the game’s heavyweights in round three. Tom Simmonds previews three ties in which non-league clubs stand a decent chance of putting themselves in the hat with the big boys.

Stourbridge v Northampton Town

While they sit a relatively modest 10th in the Evo Stik Premier Division, Stourbridge have been in rare form of late, unbeaten in the league since 22 October and coming off the back of two home wins in which they’ve scored 8 goals. In Birmingham academy product Luke Benbow, they have a striker in the middle of a massive hot streak, and his eye for the spectacular has been getting the War Memorial faithful excited recently.

Gary Hackett’s team have also beaten higher division opposition in National League South side Whitehawk to get this far and have some impressive recent cup pedigree. They took Plymouth to a second round replay in the 2011-12 season, drawing 3-3 at Home Park before winning the replay 2-0 and losing 3-0 at home to Stevenage in the second round. They also reached the second round in 2013-14 losing to Stevenage again (away, this time, and 4-0 on this occasion).

Northampton Town’s recent trajectory has been steadily downward after the momentum that sweeping to the League Two title last season gave them began to expire in mid-October. In fairness to the Cobblers though, they have played – and lost to – three of League One’s top six in their last three league games, and they are beating the relegation fodder in the division, as recent wins against Shrewsbury and Bury demonstrate. It could well be that they could relish being pitched back into an old-fashioned battle against a lower opposition, and view it as a break from not being able to match the quality and sophistication possessed by the likes of Bolton and Peterborough.

Sutton v Cheltenham Town

This one looks like a classic well-matched encounter, as the league’s 91st-placed side travel to the home of a team sat mid-table in the National League – a division which Cheltenham only vacated last season. Gary Johnson’s men are in horrible form in the league – picking up only two points from their last five games – though the cup competitions have been providing them with some relief. A 4-1 win over Crewe secured their passage to this tie, plus a 1-0 win over Bolton in the EFL trophy also provided the Robins with a shaft of light.

Cheltenham’s recent experience of the Conference could help them come to terms with a solid Sutton team and the 3G pitch at Gander Green Lane. Inevitably, Sutton’s conquering of the then top flight Coventry City in 1989 will be flogged to death in the lead up to this game. Should the men in yellow and brown prevail this time, it would not represent a seismic shock. Sutton have only conceded 33 league goals this season, and are difficult to beat particularly on their own manor. This one is ripe for a small upset to occur.

Blackpool v Brackley Town

The 1953 cup winners home tie with National League South team Brackley Town could be a banana skin for them if they have an off day. Despite the continued chaotic backdrop that envelops them, the Tangerines’ league form has been relatively solid this season. They currently occupy the last play-off place in League Two and were efficient in seeing off Brackley’s contemporaries Kidderminster Harriers 2-0 in the first round. Manager Gary Bowyer proved himself to be a level-headed, sensible sort in the face of chaotic ownership during his time in charge at Blackburn, and his calming effect appears to be working again now.

However Brackley, have conquered League One opposition to come this far, dispatching Gillingham 4-3 in a thrilling replay on their Northants plot. James Armson showed – in plundering a spectacular hat-trick to send the Gills spinning out at Brackley’s hands for the second time in three seasons – that there is the capacity for shock in their ranks. If the Saints can come away from Bloomfield Road with a draw, they will fancy that a repeat of their first round exploits is on.

Where do you think the shocks will be this weekend?

 

Read more from Tom here

Follow Tom on Twitter at @TallulahOnEarth

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