The FA Cup has come in for a lot of flak in recent years; however, with the highly-anticipated final between Arsenal and Chelsea still to play, this year we have been treated to an action-packed campaign of knockout football.
736 clubs entered the competition at the very beginning of the season and that has now been whittled down to just two, with Chelsea deemed the 4/7 favourites according to the FA cup betting odds to lift one of football’s oldest trophies.
The magic has certainly returned to the FA Cup this year and that can largely be put down to the giant killing exploits of a number of non-league sides, including Evo-stik Northern Premier side Stourbridge FC and Vanarama National League outfits Lincoln City and Sutton United.
Remarkably, Stourbridge’s FA Cup campaign began early in September when they were drawn against ninth tier United Counties League Premier Division side Peterborough Sports FC in the first qualifying round.
A 3-1 victory followed in front of 206 spectators, before they faced another away trip to Mickleover Sports. Another victory ensued for the Glass Boys, which then progressed them to the third qualifying round.
Victory over Ilkeston and then Nantwich Town meant Stourbridge had made it to the first round proper after coming through four away games. That was impressive enough, but what happened next was even better.
Finally, the Glass Boys were drawn at home and received a favourable tie against Whitehawk of the National League South (still a division above them). A comfortable 3-0 put Stourbridge into the second round and drawn against league opposition for the first time in League One outfit Northampton Town.
A shock 1-0 win followed for Stourbridge, sending the fans and manager Gary Hackett into raptures. Despite losing to Wycombe Wanderers in the third round, Stourbridge had already well and truly left their magic mark on this year’s competition.
Sutton United became everyone’s second team in the cup this year where they caused upsets over Cheltenham Town and AFC Wimbledon before being drawn against Yorkshire outfit Leeds United in round four.
Leeds just could not get to grips with Sutton’s artificial pitch and Sutton strode to a 1-0 victory to cause one of the upsets of the year. Their reward for knocking out Leeds was a home tie over the mighty Arsenal.
There was no upset this time; however, Sutton did cause a few scares throughout the match and came away with a larger following than they started the campaign with.
It has been a wonderful season for Lincoln City. Under the stewardship of the Cowley brothers, the Imps have earned promotion back to the Football League and went on a magical cup run, which saw them take down Championship side Ipswich Town and follow that up by knocking out the Premier League’s newest addition in Brighton and Hove Albion.
However, it was in round five where they caused the upset of the season after an 89th minute Sean Raggett strike left Premier League side Burnley shell-shocked and out of the cup. A heavy 5-0 defeat to Arsenal followed in the quarterfinal but by then the magic of the FA Cup had been well and truly restored.