We’ve reached the point of the season where we look at the league tables and ask questions like, ‘Why have Barnet played five fewer games than everyone else’ and ‘How can Wingate & Finchley beat sides in the National League but do so poorly in the league?’. The answer to both questions lies somewhere in the magic of the cup.
One of several unproven, unresearched and untested football theories I have is that cup runs affect league form. Teams take their eye off the ball, they miss out on league fixtures, they just can’t summon up the same kind of passion anymore for a Tuesday night league game. For whatever reason, they start to slide down the table. Let’s take a look at the latest situation in the cups and see if we can’t get this theory certified.
FA Cup, Trophy and Vase
Barnet are the only non-league club left in the world’s oldest cup competition. I saw them extend their stay for at least another week and a bit on Monday with a spectacular 3-3 draw with League Two Brentford. The winner of the replay will visit Swansea in the Fifth Round. In the National League though they’ve slipped back to 18th place. The Bees have five games in hand over most of the teams around them and could find themselves in the playoff shake-up if they can win most of those games.
The FA Trophy has reached its Third Round (last 16) stage. As you might expect it’s mainly National League clubs left. Step four Ramsbottom United and Step three Carshalton Athletic are the only remaining sides who won’t be sporting those light blue sponsored jackets on Saturday. Carshalton, from the Isthmian Premier Division host cup specialists Barnet. The Robins have recently slipped to 15th in the League, but they’ll be hoping to reach the Fourth Round for the first time ever.
The FA Vase has also reached its last 16 phase (Fifth Round). There is still some relatively local interest as Cray Valley (PM) have a home tie against Abbey Rangers of the Combined Counties League. The Millers have already surpassed their best run in the competition which was to the Second Round. They’re currently fourth in the SCEFL with a couple of games in hand, so they’re well and truly flying the flag for the debunking of my flakey theory – it’s OK I’m not that attached to it.
Let’s get into the local football, shall we? The Isthmian League’s Velocity Trophy is approaching the semifinal stage. Premier Division Enfield, AFC Hornchurch, and Bishop’s Stortford are all there along with Bracknell Town from the South Central. The Urchins are hovering dangerously close to the relegation spots but they struggled to win games all season, so I’m not sure we can blame the cups for that. Enfield and Bishop’s Stortford’s promotion challenges have fallen away in recent weeks though – are you convinced yet? Bracknell are doing OK but are still 10 points behind runaway league leaders Hayes & Yeading.
There’s not one but two cups in the Essex Senior League. The Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy has reached the semifinals. One is between Stanway Rovers and St Margaretsbury and the other between Stansted and Walthamstow. It’s hard not to see the winner of the Hargrave Park semi not lifting the trophy, to be honest. Stow and the Airportmen also meet in the quarterfinal of the Errington Shield. Neither’s league form has taken much of a hit as of yet. Stansted are still leaders with Walthamstow firmly in the chasing pack. Barkingside, Sporting Bengal and Clapton are also in the last eight.
The fun ones, right? You’re never quite sure what you’ll get in these competitions as professional reserve sides rub shoulders with the non-league guys. The London Senior Cup has reached the semifinal stage. Brentford B are there as well as Dulwich Hamlet, Harrow Borough, and Welling United. Barking and Clapton both sadly fell in the last round.
Defending champions Billericay have made it to the semifinal in the Essex Senior Cup. They visit East Thurrock United. Last season’s runners-up Chelmsford are also there. The Clarets will host AFC Hornchurch. Wait, did I just say Hornchurch? Bank that as some more evidence, they are wasting their wins on the cups.
The Hertfordshire County Cup already as have two semifinalists in St Albans and Watford. There are, however, two more quarterfinals to play. Chesthunt are in one them. They will face Stevenage at home. The other is Boreham Wood v Hemel Hempstead Town. Hemel are also still in the FA Trophy and are 14th in the National League South. I’ll just leave that one there.
Local football headlines
A couple of local sides have been involved in lead changes over the last week. Leyton Orient regained their lead at the top of the National League while Haringey finally relinquished theirs in the Bostik Premier. Boro lost at Tonbridge Angels and were overtaken by Dorking Wanderers.
Bowers & Pitsea won the battle of the top two in the Bostik North as they beat Aveley. The Millers then drew with Barking in midweek to find themselves six points behind Bowers.
It’s as you were in the Bostik South Central and the Essex Senior League.
Local football fixtures
League fixture unless stated
Saturday 2 February
Maidenhead United v Dagenham & Redbridge
Leyton Orient v Blyth Spartans – FA Trophy
Enfield Town v Margate
Haringey Borough v Burgess Hill
Leatherhead v WIngate & Finchley
Hendon v Salisbury
Barking v Great Wakering Rovers
FC Romania v Chalfont St Peter
Marlow v Cheshunt
Waltham Abbey v Chipstead
Ware v Hanwell Town
Barkingside v Stanway Rovers
Clapton v Sawbridgeworth Town
Enfield v Hullbridge Sports
Hoddesdon Town v Ilford
Leyton Athletic v Walthamstow
Southend Manor v Tower Hamlets
Sporting Bengal United v Stansted
Monday 4 February
Haringey Borough v Brightlingsea Regent
Aveley v Romford
Tower Hamlets v Leyton Athletic
Tuesday 5 February
Bishop’s Stortford v Enfield Town
Tilbury v Barking
Cheshunt v FC Romania
Hertford Town v Ware
Hanwell Town v Waltham Abbey
Redbridge v Enfield FC
Woodford Town v Barkingside
Wednesday 6 February
Walthamstow v Hullbridge Sports