Category Archives: The FA Cup

The Dangers Of The FA Cup First Round Draw

Still chipper following an unexpected point ground out at Shrewsbury the day before, Dons fans settled down on Sunday lunchtime for the FA Cup First Round draw. Thanks to years of slogging our way through qualifying rounds the draw still has an element of novelty about it, despite this being the first time in many a year we actually find ourselves entering at this stage of the competition. League Two clubs seldom have runs as such… the most any of us could hope for is a couple of easy ties against plucky non-leaguers at home, before a money spinning trip to one of the big boys in the Third Round.

And yet the sheer nature of the draw means that despite the presence of your Redbridge’s and your AFC Totten’s, it was just as likely we’ll pull out a decent League One club away from home – with Terry Brown’s Dons team not exactly famed for being cup battlers, this could have seen us mentally eliminate ourselves two weeks before we’ve even played (kind of like how I’m feeling right now about the JPT…). Plus there’s always the danger of a repeat performance of last years Second Round draw…

What you sometimes forget is just how long it takes for two former players or occasional minor celebrities to pull eighty balls from a clear plastic container – and I’m not just talking about the preamble here. The physical act of putting ones hand in, swirling it around, before removing a ball before holding it up for the world to see takes long enough as it is, add in Jim Rosenthal’s occasional dramatic pause after losing track of his notes, on top of knowing balls three and twenty-six are still in the hat… the process is agonizing.

And all the while those potential deal breakers are waiting for you. After our bizarre League Cup encounter back in July I’m sure I wasn’t alone in breathing a sigh of relief when Crawley came out early. After that, every home team drawn resulted in me loudly expressing to my bemused wife whether or not I desired a trip there… Luton (No), Cambridge (Yes), Morecambe (No), Swindon (No), Redbridge (Yes! Yes! Yes!… Awww…..).

It took approximately five minutes of this until the Buckinghamshire Supermarket Enabling Development came out of the hat, a moment of sheer panic as Matt Hanlon groped around before bringing out a ball, holding it up to the camera… blinking through the sweat I couldn’t see the number at first, but there it was, the one we all hoped it would be – anyone but our ball…

Which meant we could relax for the remainder of the draw, ball three eventually being drawn at home (thanks Keith Houchin) to…. Scunthorpe United. It could be worse, it’s by no means glamorous (and to be fair there were probably only three teams in the draw that could have inspired such a description) but it certainly will be interesting, and isn’t completely unwinnable.

In fact it should be a decent game. Scunthorpe have had a little difficulty finding their feet back in League One in only winning three games to date, but have also secured a point against promotion favourites such as Charlton, Sheffield United and Huddersfield along the way. A decent challenge for the Dons, who after halting our three game, twelve goal losing streak will be looking to take a bit of form into the game.

The bigger problem the board might have is tempting a decent crowd along. The modern phenomenon of treating even FA Cup ties as second class fixtures means a slashing of ticket prices might be required to even come close to filling the ground. I know the Dons aren’t the only club to suffer from reduced attendance for cup ties, but with the fixture sandwiched by important league games here’s hoping the powers that be can come up with a way of ensuring the fixture is played out in front of a good crowd and decent atmosphere.

By the way, if we do somehow pull of a shock, it’ll be balls twenty-eight and thirty-three you’ll be praying are kept apart in two weeks time…

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Keep The Shirt (Basingstoke Preview)

I started this preview for the Basingstoke game a day earlier than usual, because the sponsors kindly decided to release the demo version of their 2011 game, and I know what would have happened… I would have download it, opened it up to have a ‘quick look’ and end up being found by my family five days later still in the same clothes, unwashed, suffering from malnutrition and the early stages of mental illness caused by sleep deprivation. Its a good job the wife isn’t around as its safe to say no housework will be getting done for a few weeks…

I’ve got to say I’m not really into computer games, and haven’t been since I was a kid and the first Championship Manager game came out, consigning all other games to the dustbin via several years in the cupboard gathering dust. I know its a bit of a cliche to go on about its addictiveness, but if you’ve never played the game before it’s fair to say you’ll probably be doing yourself a favour by leaving it well alone…

We’ve heard the stories of grown men (and women) finding social lives, relationships, even marriages cast out of the window because of it, and I think many of the more extreme stories are embellished by the publisher for publicity reasons… but I still know people who remember with great fondness winning the European Cup when they were teenagers – what other pastimes create moments that live with you for decades after such as this?

So while I still have the ability to write, lets talk Basingstoke. Will the magic of the FA Cup encorage a vast travelling army of Dons down the M3/South West Mainline to cheer our boys into the First Round? Well, maybe, but the fact that it’s a rare(ish) local(ish) encounter should be enough to see a more than healthy travelling contingent. For more than obvious reasons the FA Cup will always hold a special place in the hearts of Dons fans of a certain age, but the 4QR doesn’t hold the same air of mystery it did when we invaded Sittingbourne and Crawley en-masse. Been there, done that, been destroyed by the powerhouse team running away with promotion two divisions above us in the next round…

In fact, you wonder whether we might be heading for a bit of a fall here. Our captain has been idly discussing who he would like to play in the next round with the local press. The WUP guestbook has pondered a potential tie with Them in the next round – in fact even I considered jumping on the bandwagon with an article about it until I remembered we have to actually beat Basingstoke first… Lets not forget, while Dons sides in the past have revelled in the underdog tag we haven’t exactly been immune to the boot being on the other foot occasionally. I mean, who seriously thought we would lose at home to Workington in last years Trophy?

OK, this is a very different Dons sde to the overpaid and over rated part-timers of last term. But the fact is, for all their brilliance so far in the League, the current squads limited FA Cup experience in most cases hasn’t stretched as far as being such overwhelming favourites for such an important tie away from home. You wonder what it’s doing to their heads, for all the managers insistance they treat it with the seriousness it deserves will they even subconsiously lose focus, for long enough for it to be fatal and Important Lessons end up being learnt the hard way?

Ultimately the attitude certain young players show will decide whether its a comfortable victory or a nervy afternoon. And perhaps more than any of them, the performance of Andre Blackman could be key to our chances. Its probably pretty obvious that Andre is a far more technically gifted footballer than Chris Bush, for all the promise Bush has shown in his short spell at the club. And yet, Bush is starting games and Andre isn’t. Its a simple fact that if you are a full back then no matter how many players you can beat, how many impressive tricks you can use to bamboozle the opposition… if you can’t do the simple things right – defend solidly, concentrate at all times, clear your lines when under pressure – then the guy who can will get to play instead of you.

Andre now has the chance to show what he’s learnt from his time on the bench thanks to Bush’s enforced absence, and if he performs he will keep the shirt. I’m sure this is something he is very much aware of going into Saturday, as will Jon Main, Luke Moore, etc. One huge boost is the news Steven Gregory looks like being fit, as I mentioned after Saturdays game I feel he is every bit as important as Kedwell in terms of our ambitions for the season – if we can keep those two fit we will go a long way.

Before I go just a quick congratulations to The Youth, who progressed in their version of the FA Cup with a 1-0 win over Wealdstone – Maidstone or Dartford await them in the First Round proper, and once again The Youth are giving the senior boys a run for their money over which Dons side will play on a Premier League ground first…

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Pretty Underwhelming Trip

The draw for the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round gave the Dons… a pretty underwhelming trip to Basingstoke. At first I thought ‘Great, it’s a straight shot on the train from Surbiton…’, until I remembered the walk through endless shopping malls, down a seemingly never-ending road and over a major road junction. It’s a good job I’m doing the Minithon, I’m going to need the fitness (or maybe get a cab this time round?).

All things considered, the draw could have been worse – we avoided our Conference rivals, although probability suggested as most of them are based in The North and the draw is still regionalised we would have been unfortunate to pull out a Luton or a Crawley. We also missed out on real potential banana skins, I’m thinking away to Bromley/Chelmsford, Dover or Dartford, places where the locals would turn up in real numbers and make things tough for us. You get the impression that even a disinterested Dons fanbase will more than match the local turnout on the day…

And yet, it could have been better. A home draw against a Ryman League side would have been nice… Basingstoke are the sort of team who can cause problems for us by getting right in our faces and turning the occasion into a Proper Cup Tie. With a sprinkling of Cup Magic we might be on the wrong end of an upset. No fielding weakened sides here – we are going to have to put out a full strength eleven firing on all cylinders to ensure our place in the First Round… even then anything less than full commitment could see us dragged back to Kingsmeadow for a replay… or possibly worse…

Basingstokes home form hasn’t really set the division alight so far with two wins, two defeats and a draw, but as we all know anyone driving down the A339 past the ground best avoid the Form Book, as its going to go flying out the window come kick off time…

Our last visit was quite early in our BSS promotion season – I vaguely remember it should have been a complete hammering, but the Dons ended up holding on for a 1-0 win. My only other recollection was the outside of the ground reminded me vaguely of walking past the old South Stand at Plough Lane, but this may have been because it’s also painted yellow and blue…

There have been a couple of links between the two clubs already this year, although Basingstoke haven’t had much luck with either of them… Ross Montague signed for them over the summer following his release, only to promptly damage his knee ending his season (and lets keep our fingers crossed not his career?). Then last month young striker Delano Sam-Yorke went for a loan spell, but ended up getting sent-off in his first game…

I mentioned yesterday how the FA Cup is quite favourable towards Conference clubs like ourselves… we only need to win this game to get to the First Round and potential windfall (as well as a share of the replays pot). We need a good run this year to keep our name on people’s lips, remind our local public and floating support that we are on the verge of something great… decent FA Cup runs don’t normally result in a long-term growth in league attendances, but every bit of publicity helps… Basingstoke won’t be a walkover but a win should be expected…

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