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Historic Non-League Cup Runs - Can History Repeat Itself?

Publish Date: 04/01/2024
Fact checked by: James Leeland

Over the course of the long history of the FA Cup, there have been many occasions where a non-league side has thrown up a shock in how far they have travelled through the competition. In this article, we look at recent FA Cup runs from non-league teams and determine whether any of the non-league sides currently left in the competition will be able to replicate one of those runs.

Lincoln City- Quarter Finals - 2016/17

To many people, Lincoln’s run to the quarterfinals in the 2016/17 FA Cup will be the most memorable recent run of a non-league side.

The Imps ploughed their way to the last eight of the prestigious competition, famously knocking out Premier League side Burnley at Turf Moor. Managed by the Cowley brothers, the National League outfit started out in the fourth qualifying round at home to Guiseley. Following a 0-0 draw at Sincil Bank, the Imps managed to overcome the West Yorkshire side with a 2-1 victory at Nethermoor Park.

In the first round proper, it was National League North side Altrincham who succumbed to Lincoln as they again triumphed 2-1. The second round saw League One side Oldham Athletic visit Sincil Bank, and the two teams played out a 3-2 thriller that saw Lincoln come out on top.

The third round is where sides from the Championship and Premier League enter the fray, and it was second-tier Ipswich Town who hosted the Imps at Portman Road. The two teams played out an entertaining 2-2 draw, leading to a replay at the home of the National League side. A Nathan Arnold winner miraculously saw the Lincolnshire outfit through to the fourth round. It was another Championship side who would await Lincoln again, this time in the form of promotion chasing Brighton and Hove Albion. A convincing 3-1 win over the Seagulls set up the famous matchup away to Burnley.

With 89 minutes on the clock, against the odds, Lincoln scored with their only shot on target of the game, with Sean Raggett’s header being confirmed via goal-line technology. That shock win set up a dream tie with Premier League giants Arsenal at the Emirates. The National League side took a whopping 9,000 away fans, but they wouldn’t be enough to get the Imps over the line to produce another miracle. Eventual winners Arsenal showed no mercy to the non-league side, thumping them 5-0 and putting an end to their dream cup run. Lincoln’s run to the quarterfinals remains the furthest a non-league side has gone in the competition in recent years.

Sutton United - Fifth Round - 2016/17

Alongside Lincoln’s run to the quarterfinals in 2016/17, there was another National League side that produced a memorable FA Cup journey.

Sutton United overcame several sides in leagues above to reach the fifth round and set up a sensational home tie with eventual winners Arsenal. As is the case with all National League sides, Sutton’s journey started in the fourth qualifying round, where they defeated Forest Green Rovers 2-1. The first round proper saw Sutton make the trip to National League South side Dartford, and the two teams played out a nine-goal thriller, with Sutton emerging 6-3 winners.

The second round saw Sutton host League Two outfit Cheltenham Town, with the non-league side winning 2-1. This then set up a derby tie with League One AFC Wimbledon in the third round. A 0-0 draw at Gander Green Lane set up a replay at Kingsmeadow. The National League side came from behind to secure a 3-1 victory and continue their cup run. Sutton were rewarded with a huge tie at home to Championship winning Leeds United. Amazingly, the non-league side managed to produce an upset and win 1-0. The fairy tale run was finally ended by eventual winners Arsenal, who made the trip to Gander Green Lane and proved too much for Sutton, winning 2-0.

It was a historic run for the U'S, which was perhaps overshadowed by the infamous Wayne Shaw pie-eating incident, but one that has allowed Matt Gray's side to venture into the Football League for the first time in their history.

How far can Non-League teams go in the FA Cup this year?

There are currently four non-league teams left in this year's competition, three from the National League and one from the National League South.

Chesterfield

Chesterfield are the highest-ranked non-league side as they sit at the top of the National League, and the Derbyshire outfit have been given the tough task of making the trip to Vicarage Road to take on Watford in Round Three. However, Paul Cook’s side have beaten two League One sides on their way to the third round, beating both Portsmouth and Leyton Orient by one goal to nil. The Spireites boast the best away record in the National League and will certainly use that to give them confidence ahead of Saturday’s fixture.

Aldershot

Aldershot Town are another of those National League sides still in the competition, and they are faced with an incredibly tricky trip to the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion. In reaching the third round, the Shots pulled off a couple of upsets, thrashing Swindon Town 7-4 in their own backyard in the first round before taking League Two leaders Stockport County to a replay after a 2-2 draw and triumphing 1-0 at Edgeley Park. On Sunday, they face a West Brom side sitting in the play-offs in the Championship. It will be an incredible achievement if Aldershot were to bag a surprise win at the Hawthorns, but it is hard to look past the Baggies to progress to the next round, especially given the absence of star player Josh Stokes after a harsh derby-day dismissal.

Eastleigh

Eastleigh are the third National League side still left in the competition, and they have been handed a fairly favourable tie away to League Two strugglers Newport County. In a match against Reading that was overshadowed by the Royals protests, The Spitfires scored with a last-minute winner in Round Two and will be hoping to replicate a similar sort of upset at Rodney Parade. Of the three fifth-tier sides still left in the prestigious competition, Eastleigh on paper have the “easiest” draw, and Richard Hill’s side will be looking to use that to their full advantage. Despite their league position, the Spitfires look like the likeliest of the National League teams to progress to the next round.

Maidstone

Maidstone are the lowest-ranked side still left in the competition and currently sit fourth in the National League South. They are the only non-league side left that have been rewarded with a home tie in the third round, as they host League One promotion hopefuls Stevenage. The sixth-tier side caused somewhat of an upset in round two as they came from a goal down to win 2-1 and progress against Truro. They will look to turn Gallagher Stadium into a fortress once more and use their home atmosphere to spur the team on to an upset. Although it is a tricky task, a Maidstone win is certainly possible, and they have shown in previous rounds that they are definitely capable of beating teams several leagues above them.

 

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