The best cup competition in the world is back this weekend. We are one game away from the first-round proper, with many teams dreaming of making history. With that in mind, I will be previewing some games that look prime for upsets and games with big implications.
Cray Valley Paper Mills are one of five step-four teams left in the FA Cup. They host step-three side Enfield Town in what is set to be a bumper crowd at the Artic Stadium.
This tie is one of three that guarantees a side below the National League/National League North/South level a place in the first round proper. The hosts have only ever been in the FA Cup proper on one occasion: the COVID-hit 2020/21 season, where they were defeated by Havant & Waterlooville.
Cray currently occupy 8th position in the Isthmian South East Division after only playing three games due to their cup commitments. They've played at least three fewer games than most of their league rivals, winning two and drawing one.
So far in their journey, Cray Valley PM have beaten Uxbridge, Northwood, and Carshalton. Enfield Town is the latest test.
Enfield Town are the visitors and sit 7th in the Isthmian League Premier Division. Like their hosts, they have a couple games in hand on the teams around them due to their cup exploits. Away from home in the league, they've won two and drawn one, conceding only two goals in the process. Victories over Potters Bar, Felixstowe & Walton, and Halesowen have seen Enfield Town on the brink of their first ever appearances in the FA Cup first round since being formed in 2001. Marcus Wyllie has been their star player, scoring eight goals in 11 games.
The two sides have never met in a competitive fixture, and an intriguing tie is set to be played.
The next game that guarantees a step-three or lower side a place in the first round is a tie between Billericay Town and Sheppey United.
The Blues have reached the first round on six occasions, last qualifying in 2020. This season in the league, Billericay sits in fourth place, seven points off league leaders Hornchurch. Their away form has been stronger than their performances at the AGP Arena, picking up 10 points on their travels compared to six in front of their home fans. They will be hoping for promotion back to the National League South.
Billericay's run so far has consisted of a 7-0 win over Stowmarket Town, a 1-3 win over Brightlingsea, and an impressive 1-0 win over National League South side St Albans.
Step 4 Side Sheppey have already exceeded their best ever FA Cup run, so they will be hoping to qualify for the first round proper for the first time in their history.
The Ites currently occupy 15th place in the Isthmian League South East Division after playing only three league games. They have one win and two draws and have multiple games in hand on most of the teams. Sheppey have beaten Kennington, Burgess Hill, and Merthyr thus far in their historic run. They're priced at 5.50 to beat their hosts.
The third and final game involving sides step three and below is between step three AFC Totton, and step four Ramsgate.
AFC Totton currently occupy eighth place in the Southern League South Division with 16 points from nine games. They haven't qualified for the first round in 12 years. The Stags have won their last three games at home: a 2-1 win over Plymouth Parkway in FA Trophy qualification, a 1-0 win over Berkhamsted in FA Cup qualification, and a 3-1 league win over Swindon Supermarine. Matty Burrows is their league top scorer with five goals thus far.
Wins over Berkhamsted, Gloucester, and Sholing have seen the Stags come this far.
Ramsgate plays in step four and have never gone further than the first round, last achieved 18 years ago. Like other sides in step four still in the FA Cup, the Rams have only played three games. Ben Smith's side have six points from three and currently sits in 12th. They've beaten Chatham, Cray Wanderers, and Frome so far.
The bookies have AFC Totton as favourites (1.80).
After previewing the three lowest-ranked games, the last match under the microscope is one I feel has the biggest 'upset' potential.
Horsham are step three and host National League side Dorking, with a raucous, sold-out atmosphere expected at the Camping World Community Stadium. Separated by just over 10 miles, the two local rivals lock horns again. Horsham embarked on a historic FA Cup run in 2007, reaching the second round and forcing a replay at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea. In 2021, the Hornets shocked Woking to progress, eventually losing out to Carlisle.
Dominic Di Paolo's side are unbeaten in nine games in all competitions, dating back to the 3-1 away defeat to Whitehawk on the August bank holiday. Despite having a game in hand on most teams, the Hornets sit 10th in the Isthmian Premier League. At home, they've been impressive, only losing once in eight appearances.
Dorking have enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks and now find themselves playing in the National League. However, qualification for the FA Cup has alluded them. Playing against a team two leagues lower is the perfect opportunity for Marc White and his side to qualify, but they know it won't be easy. The Wanderers have lost their last two games as injuries continue to plague their threadbare squad.
A sold-out crowd against a team bang in form could provide a banana skin for Dorking, and I feel Horsham could cause an upset at 3.4 odds.
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