Horsham, Eastbourne, Hastings, Whitehawk: who can grab FA Cup glory for Sussex?
It's now getting very serious for four of our clubs as they measure up the prospect of battling on Saturday with a keen eye on the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup.
There is now just 180 minutes between them and the potential of welcoming a Sunderland, Bolton or Portsmouth to Sussex, or visiting a big club's groun for an occasion to remember for players and fans.
Here's my match-my-match look at their chances. Good luck to all four (even if only three at he most can go through!).
Chippenham Town v Hastings United
Once again United boss Chris Agutter is getting a rich tempo from his squad as they chase down promotion to the Isthmian Premier League. Had it not been for Covid the club would have already been operating at that level. This term, after a slow start, they are powering ominously up the south east division. They beat Burgess Hill Town in a midweek away game on September 14 and put four past Sevenoaks three days before that. In the FA Trophy they brushed aside Dunstable 3-0 on September 25.
In the FA Cup Hastings have done it the hard way by beating Beckenham, Harefield and Broadfields on the road, scoring ten goals in the process. Again, the balls out of the hat have them travelling once more.
I wouldn’t have been surprised if some United fans had to go to Google Maps when Chippenham Town away came up. It’s a team in Wiltshire that might have that mystery of the unknown for many of us here in Sussex. But that's what the FA Cup is all about!
Town operate from the Thornbury Surfacing Stadium, Bristol Road, and are in National South, two steps higher than United. They are doing very well, after six matches they are in the play-off positions with 11 points to their name. Last Saturday they beat Concord Rangers 3-0 away from home. In the FA Cup after a stuttering 1-1 draw at Poole Town, they got the job done1-0 in the replay.
Hastings boss Chris Agutter will primarily be looking for promotion this season but will relish this huge FA Cup opportunity. Backed by a large away following there is no reason why our East Sussex powerhouses can’t produce a giantkilling act in Wiltshire. I will be travelling to Chippenham and you can follow the adventure on Twitter - @bowmanontheroad .
Horsham v Eastbourne Borough
With the Albion kicking off at 5.30pm at the Amex this match at the Camping World Stadium is the 3pm game of the afternoon here in Sussex. There is every reason to expect huge excitement among both home and travelling fans plus many others from around the county. Hopefully the record Camping World attendance will be smashed.
Horsham will be looking to forget about a disappointing start to their Isthmian Premier season where they have lost four from seven and are currently in the relegation zone. League problems mounted for manager Dominic Di Paola when Bowers Pitney secured a 1-0 home win over his side last week.
In the Cup Hornets have needed two home replays to advance. There was an easy home win against Haywards Heath by 2-0. On September 21 a real battle ensued as Horsham came out on top against Kingstonian 1-0.
Eastbourne Borough from National South have made a very pleasing start to their league campaign with two wins and three draws to their name. Indeed a 6-0 demolition of Braintree would have done wonders for them last weeknd. In the Cup Borough were very professional when beating Hanwell Town 2-0 to advance and avoid a banana skin.
Manager Danny Bloor said in his Braintree post-match interview: "It’s the FA Cup and anything can happen, we know it's going to be a tough match but we go there in good spirits."
It's sure to be a cracking afternoon around the Camping World but it's too close to call!
Hayes and Yeading v Whitehawk
Whitehawk FC manager Ross Standen and assistant Stuart Tuck have managed to shrug off a poor start to the Isthmian South East campaign and hit a gold seam in the FA Cup. They started with a bye in the preliminary round then I witnessed a glorious Cup tie at sunny Littlehampton where the hosts nearly came up with a giantkilling act. However, the Hawks, buoyed on by their army of ultras came up with two late goals to seal a 5-4 win.
Whitehawk then produced a memorable afternoon when beating National South side Slough Town. This column, in a preview, suggested that if the Hawks could restrict Slough to one goal then they would be in business. That’s exactly how things panned out as Hawks powered to a 3-1 victory. Their match commentator suggested ‘it was a sparkling performance matched by the result’.
Hayes and Yeading United are one of the powerhouses of non-league football in the south east. They currently operate in the Southern League Premier which is one step higher than Whitehawk. United have already been flexing their muscles this season both in the Cup and league. It's been an intoxicating opening salvo to their 2021/22 campaign. They have seven league wins from eight and have already scored nine FA Cup goals in two matches, knocking out Bognor and Tonbridge Angles in the process.
It's going to be a very tough afternoon for Ross and his team on the road to Hayes, but you write Whitehawk off in the FA Cup at your peril. Hawks will forget about the league position and dig deep.
It's an exciting time for all four clubs on Saturday - I send huge messages of good luck to all of them. Cobo