Non league sides fight on in the FA Cup

By Tim Williams

There were seven non-league teams in the hat for the third round draw of the FA Cup. We look at three ties involving non-league outfits and assessed their chances ahead of the biggest footballing weekend of the year.

Sutton United v AFC Wimbledon

National League Sutton United have been rewarded with a home tie against League 1 high-flyers AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup third round in a fierce local derby, a repeat of AFC’s first match after reformation in 2002.

AFC Wimbledon sit in 10th position in League 1 after a remarkable rise from the Combined Counties League which began almost 15 years ago. The story of the phoenix clubs is being adapted for the silver screen and surely an opening scene should portray their first ever game which took place at Sutton United’s Ganders Green Lane. The 4-0 loss for AFC was immaterial on that day.

AFC will be favourites for this FA Cup tie in what promises to be a highly-charged fixture, with only 5 miles separating the two football clubs.

Sutton have struggled for consistency in the National League under Paul Doswell and succumbed to a 6-0 home defeat to high-flying Dover Athletic last time out. Despite indifferent league form, Sutton will take inspiration from their legendary third round victory over top-flight Coventry in 1989.

Sutton United also faced AFC Wimbledon in their previous guise in the 1963 FA Amateur Cup final. Wimbledon were 4-2 victors at Wembley.

Wycombe Wanderers v Northampton Town or Stourbridge

Should Northern Premier League Stourbridge FC triumph in their second-round replay against Northampton, they will be the lowest-ranked side in the third round. A trip to Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers awaits the winners.

The second-round tie between Northampton and Stourbridge was postponed due to a frozen pitch at the War Memorial Ground and is now set to be played on 13 December. Despite describing the postponement as the “biggest anti-climax you could imagine”, Gary Hackett’s Stourbridge were in the third-round draw for the first time in the club’s history.

Stourbridge eased past Whitehawk in the first round of the competition, a non-league side who have enjoyed their own FA cup run in recent history, and are unbeaten in their last eight games.

One of the greatest cup upsets was Wimbledon’s famous victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final. Manager Bobby Gould masterminded that result for the Wombles and his grandson, Stourbridge goalkeeper Matt Gould, will hope to take inspiration from Wimbledon’s heroics that day.

Wycombe sealed their place in the third round after dispatching League One Chesterfield 5-0 at the Proact Stadium.

Barrow v Rochdale

AFC Barrow fans may be forgiven for thinking what if after they were drawn at home to League One’s Rochdale in the FA Cup third round.

Despite avoiding the ever-coveted glamour tie against Premier League opposition, Barrow Boss Paul Cox has urged his side to focus on progression rather than ruing what may have been.

“It depends on how you look at romance. I still look at this as a romantic tie. We’re in the third round of the FA Cup, and I would never want to turn my nose up at any fixture, even if we played the lowest-ranked team in the competition”, Cox told reporters at the draw in Salford.

Barrow sit 5th in the National League and have only lost two league games all season. They haven’t tasted league defeat since a 3-1 defeat away at Dover Athletic in mid-August. They edged past fellow non-league outfit Taunton Town in the first round and famously overturned League One surprise package Bristol Rovers to book their place in the third round proper.

Rochdale are enjoying a successful season in the congested League One, and are currently occupying a play-off spot in 5th position.

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