Who will fall at the first?
Following a decidedly unromantic Thursday Preview, in which Lanterne Rouge has forecast Tipton Town to take what the 44th President of the United States might describe as a ‘shellacking’ against a grand old opponent from League 1, I’ve taken upon myself the task of restoring a sense of hope to the misty-eyed among our audience.
In the laissez-faire culture of the contemporary game, there are few butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers among those who take the field on 1st Round weekend. On the contrary, the teams that form the peak of the non-league pyramid are often as formidable an opposition as the clubs of Leagues 1 and 2 will face week in, week out. However, the psychological wound of defeat to a team further down the food chain will still put a downer on any League fan’s season and the 1st Round has thrown up some memorable surprises in recent years. So, I have compiled a list of five underdogs to look out for in this year’s draw.
Fleetwood Town Vs Walsall:
With a host of ex-Football Leaguers among their ranks, the Cod Army of Fleetwood could almost pass for the favourites in this tie. Significant investment from gas and plumbing mogul and club chairman, Andy Pilley, has brought players not too long ago of League 1 and beyond to Highbury. Indeed, with 39-year-old left back Alan Wright, the home side have an FA Cup runners-up medal in their collective trophy cabinet. The club’s 1st season in the Conference has seen further additions in the guise of ex-Huddersfield and Swansea midfielder Ian Craney and the loan signing of Sean Gregan. Contrast Fleetwood’s 6th position with Walsall’s dismal campaign, which sees them bottom of League 1 currently. The Saddlers’ infighting towards the end of the last season took the gloss of what turned out to be a reasonable year’s work, but a clutch of loan signings have failed to gel so far and their season could go under if they return from north Lancs with nothing.
Gillingham Vs Dover Athletic:
The Gills have had a couple of Kent derbies in the Cup in recent times, including overturning then top flight opponents from up the A2 in 2004. But the distain of Paul Scally towards the Valley Express was nothing next to the beef brought to Priestfield this weekend by Conference South Dover Athletic. Not content with coaxing Medway legend (and highly successful Dover manager) Andy Hessenthaler back for another go in the Gillingham dugout, the man appointed as his replacement at the Crabble, Ian Hendon, was swiftly offered the role of Penfold to Hess’ Danger Mouse. The home side have so far failed to live up to expectations (including my own) of challenging for a return to the third tier. The home fans will be thanking their deity of choice that they have home advantage, having endured more than a season without a bean of recompense on their travels. Meanwhile, their nemesis are in the play-off spots and will need no motivation.
Hereford Vs Hythe Town:
Candlelit dinner and roses on the table romance, this one. As the top, top pundits provided us by ITV will repeat ad nauseam, Hythe Town are officially the lowest-ranked team in the competition. A long way from the now groan-inducing exploits of Ronnie Radford, Hereford have been aided only by Barnet in propping up League 2 so far. A spot of target practice against a team from the Kent League might be just the thing to lift spirits. But, the visitors are not likely to b star-struck at Edgar Street. A repeat of Norwich’s demolition of Paulton Rovers last season, it probably won’t be. Hereford fans, place your fingers over your eyes for this one.
Lincoln Vs Nuneaton Town:
Steve Tilson’s return to Football League management at Sincil Bank is one of the most heartening developments of the season so far. However, as David from The Seventy Two testifies, the Imps struggle to score goals and Tilson might have to endure an afternoon of frustration. Nuneaton Town, born on the funeral pyre of Nuneaton Borough in 2008, currently sit 6th in Conference North and have a young team comprising many players discarded by Championship neighbours, Cities Coventry and Leicester. They won’t be daunted and the Tilson revival may have to stay on hold.
Tamworth Vs Crewe:
Another Conference side with a home crowd behind them, the Lambs of Tamworth enjoyed a decent start to their campaign, compounding the misery of a Grimsby Town supporter I know. However, manager Gary Mills’ decision to take a stroll up to Kitkat Crescent in mid-October has seen form tail off a bit since. There’s nothing like a visit from League opposition to perk up forlorn footballers, though, and Crewe will have to put their previous two games out of mind if they are to overcome a club that has done it and bought the t-shirt in the Cup before.