We’ve been regularly given the argument over the last few years that the magic of the FA Cup is dead. The big teams apparently don’t take it seriously enough, and even some of the lesser names had started to take it easy. However from what I’ve seen this year, the Cup is still well and truly alive. Having been to a game in every round since the first one in November, I have seen that the passion is still there amongst the fans, and the magic of the cup still exists. The initial target of the cup run was to make it to the fifth round, but thanks to the exploit of my hometown club Lincoln City and the tickets given to me by the FA Cup, I made it all the way to the semis. Obviously if anyone could help me get tickets for the final, that would be very much appreciated.
Peterborough United 2-1 Chesham United
The 2016 giantkillers were hoping to be at it again in the 2017 tournament. After a famous victory away at Bristol Rovers the year before, Chesham were hoping they could repeat the shock at League 1 Peterborough. Shaquile Coulthirst’s double, including a spectacular first from 25 yards, put the Posh in full control, and it looked like they would coast into the second round. However a series of brilliant saves from Chesham ‘keeper Ashlee Jones kept them in the game, and when Ryan Blake sent the 663 travelling fans into raptures, the comeback looked on. But Peterborough showed their experience and held firm, however Chesham could go home proud of their achievement.
Round One Replay
Solihull Moors 1-1 Yeovil Town (AET) (Solihull won 4-2 on penalties)
Probably the worst match that I have witnessed on my FA Cup journey. A small ground that I will probably remember best for its pies, certainly not for the game. A pretty poor quality game came to life in the final few minutes, with Yeovil ‘keeper Artur Krysiak somehow denying the Moors an unlikely winner. Yeovil began extra time well and went ahead through Francois Zoko’s powerful 20 yards strike, only to be pulled back by Akwasi Asante’s dubious penalty. The lottery of the spot kicks went Solihull’s way, with Ryan Dickson and Tom Eaves both missing their penalties.
Lincoln City 3-2 Oldham Athletic
A short trip up to Sincil Bank followed, to see an inform Lincoln side take on a struggling Oldham team. Lincoln fans were in dreamland in the first half hour, with goals from Theo Robinson and Terry Hawkridge giving them a two goal cushion. And it looked like game over just minutes later when Robinson added another with a clever finish after being found by Alan Power. Late goals from Peter Clarke and Billy McKay made the Imps sweat, but as the fog descended late on, there wasn’t too much action. At least, I didn’t see too much action.
Ipswich Town 2-2 Lincoln City
Lincoln took nearly 5,000 fans down to Portman Road to see if their side could pull off another upset, and they were to go home content with what they had seen. Easily the best ground up to that point in the cup run, biggest in attendance, and comfortably the best facilities. Robinson was at it again to give the Imps an early lead, only for Tom Lawrence to drive from the halfway line and equalise for Ipswich just minutes later from the edge of the penalty area. Robinson brilliantly volleyed the Imps back in front, only for Ipswich and Lawrence to reply again and take the tie back to Sincil Bank.
Round Three Replay
Lincoln City 1-0 Ipswich Town
Fans queued from as early as 6am for tickets to see the replay just ten days later, with a buzz going round the City that hadn’t been seen for a very long time. The atmosphere was rocking inside the Bank, but after a series of early chances for Lincoln, the game didn’t really live up to it. Just as the game looked to be petering out to extra time, Adam Marriott broke for Lincoln, and with a fantastic through ball set up Nathan Arnold to round Dean Gerken and score, sending Sincil Bank wild and Lincoln through to the fourth round. It was a much deserved win for the Imps, and along with a very good few months in the National League, it was looking like a special season for the Imps.
Lincoln City 3-1 Brighton & Hove Albion
It was Championship highflyers Brighton & Hove Albion who were next to experience the Cowley revolution in Lincoln, and with scenes similar to those before the Ipswich game, it was the first sell out at Sincil Bank for a number of years. It was once again a sensational atmosphere, but the mood was slightly dampened early on when Richie Towell volleyed Brighton ahead after Glenn Murray’s knock down. But Lincoln weren’t going to lie down and take it, and Alan Power levelled from the spot after Murray dragged down Theo Robinson in the area. City’s tails were up, and they were ahead moments later when Fikayo Tomori bizarrely poked the ball past his own goalkeeper. There was still time for the Seagulls to get back into the game, but it was all over when Robinson got in behind and slipped a composed finish into the corner, and send Lincoln into the fifth round for the first time.
Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City
Perhaps not the glamour tie that many Lincoln fans wanted, but away to any Premier League side gave them the chance to pull off a major upset. You got the feeling that this was a good, old fashioned cup tie. The minnows away at what is probably the most old fashioned ground in the Premier League. Danny Cowley wanted to play the game in 15 minute segments, and for the first five, things went how he would have planned. Lincoln limited Burnley to half chances, and the main story was the ongoing battle between big Matt Rhead and Joey Barton. The final 15 minutes though were much more frantic, with the Clarets carving out numerous opportunities but being kept out by a brilliant Lincoln defensive display. Then as the clock ticked to 90 minutes, the magic moment. Sam Habergham’s back post corner found the unmarked Luke Waterfall, who squared for his centre-back partner Sean Raggett, and he couldn’t miss. The 3,300 away fans, who hadn’t been quiet all match, went wild. Some fans were in tears, others just in pure shock, having witnessed a non-league side make it to the FA Cup quarter final for the first time for 103 years.
Arsenal 5-0 Lincoln City
The glamour tie that thousands of Lincoln fans wanted. 9,000 fans travelled down to London for the game, with a number of them gathering in Covent Garden before the game to create a great atmosphere. The support was superb inside the stadium, undoubtedly the best I had been to on the FA Cup journey. Lincoln held their own for much of the first half, and could have gone ahead when Arnold went past a number of players, only to be denied by Petr Cech. The Gunners did have the lead just before half time when Theo Walcott took aim, and benefitted from a deflection to find the corner. Arsenal made the most of their superior fitness, and were soon in a three goal lead thanks to Olivier Giroud and an unfortunate Waterfall own goal. Alexis Sanchez produced the one world class moment to make it 4-0, before Aaron Ramsey blasted in on the goal line to make it five. The scoreline was harsh on Lincoln, but all of the 9,000 travelling fans waited around at the end to congratulate the players and staff on what was an incredible cup run.
Chelsea 4-2 Tottenham
After saying goodbye to Lincoln, it looked like I would also be saying goodbye to the FA Cup journey. Thankfully I won four free tickets to the semi final thanks to an FA Cup twitter vote. The game between the Premier League’s top two was a mouth watering prospect, and didn’t disappoint. Antonio Conte’s team selection took many by surprise, but paid off after just a few minutes when Willian curled in a free kick from the edge of the box. Harry Kane quickly levelled for Spurs with a clever near-post flick, and they looked to be on the front foot for most of the half. Chelsea though were back in front just before half time, when Willian made the most of Heung Min Son’s rash challenge in the area to put the Blues ahead from the penalty spot. Spurs responded yet again, this time with Dele Alli getting on the end of a magnificent Christian Eriksen pass to put them level. Conte turned to his bench, and sent on the big guns: Eden Hazard and Diego Costa. It was Hazard who delivered, firing in from the edge of the area to put Chelsea one foot in the final. It was two soon after, when Hazard set up Nemanja Matic to unleash a pile driver that found the top corner. It was undoubtedly one of the best goals scored at the New Wembley, and a strike worthy of winning any game.
The FA Cup Journey XI
Ashlee Jones (Chesham United) A slightly left field choice, but he was undoubtedly the standout Chesham player. He made some fantastic saves and was unfortunate to be on the losing side.
Luke Waterfall (Lincoln City) A consistently good performer for the Imps throughout the FA Cup run. Played a crucial role in keeping out Burnley in the fifth round, and set up the winning goal.
Sean Raggett (Lincoln City) Along with Waterfall, formed an excellent defensive pairing. A key figure for Danny Cowley’s men, and scored the historic late winner at Turf Moor.
David Luiz (Chelsea) Man of the match at Wembley for the semi final, and hardly put a foot wrong. Dealt well with the constant Spurs pressure in the second half.
Nathan Arnold (Lincoln City) Lincoln’s most dangerous player during their brilliant run. Stayed composed to score a superb winner in the replay with Ipswich, set up two against Brighton, and was inches from scoring a stunner at the Emirates.
Nathan Ake (Chelsea) A surprising choice for the semi final, but repaid Antonio Conte’s faith in him. A strong performer in the Chelsea back line, and should be given a chance a few more times before the end of the season.
Nemanja Matic (Chelsea) Probably didn’t have the best game at Wembley against Tottenham, but produced the moment of brilliance. His sensational strike will go down as one of the great Wembley goals, and was worth winning any game.
Tom Lawrence (Ipswich) The only Ipswich player who looked like a Championship quality player in their tie with Lincoln. Scored twice at Portman Road to save them from embarrassment in front of their home supporters.
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) Showed his class against Lincoln, and was constantly a thorn in their side. Produced the one moment of brilliance to score the Gunners’ fourth.
Theo Robinson (Lincoln City) After the fifth round, Robinson was the second highest scorer in the FA Cup, and he may have got more had be not left for Southend in January. He scored twice against Oldham and Ipswich, before adding another in the win over Brighton.
Shaquile Coulthirst (Peterborough United) Again, a slightly left field choice, but Coulthirst got us going in the FA Cup run. He scored two goals, including a superb opener into the top corner from 25 yards.
Goal of the season
Nemanja Matic v Tottenham
A pretty obvious choice to be honest. A wonderful strike from the Serbian from 30 yards out that Hugo Lloris had absolutely no chance with. Undoubtedly one of the great Wembley goals, and there isn’t really a strike I saw to compete with it.
Moment of the season
Sean Raggett’s goal v Burnley
Obviously not the prettiest goal, but a once in a blue moon moment. A non-league side after 103 years had made the FA Cup quarter final. Even the goal itself had an element of drama about it, with the travelling fans waiting for goal line technology to confirm the ball had crossed the line.
Player of the season
A predatory finisher, without whom Lincoln would never have made it to the quarter finals. He scored twice against Oldham, including an impressive finish for his second, before grabbing a composed brace to send the third round tie with Ipswich to a replay. His final goal completed a brilliant comeback against Brighton, and sent Lincoln through to the fifth round.