Chelsea lead the FA Cup markets as Arsenal look to make it three in a row
Our own road to Wembley starts in August but the majority of Premier League clubs will be oblivious to the Extra Preliminary Round. Hertford Town have drawn a home tie with Kirkley and Pakefield on the 15th of next month with a trip to either FC Romania or Whitton United awaiting the winners.
Arsenal completed their second successive FA Cup win, and their 12th in all, with a comfortable 4-0 victory over conscientious objectors Aston Villa back in May. Despite that, the Gunners are just fourth favourites to retain their trophy in what looks to be a predictable market.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea lead the way and having achieved their main aim – a fourth Premier League title – the other set of Blues may focus more intently on the main domestic knockout competition. You can’t exactly accuse the club of not taking the FA Cup seriously but while they fielded a strong XI in 2014-15, an embarrassing fourth round exit to Bradford City left Chelsea with a clearer run to the Premier League title.
Manchester City are set for another summer of heavy spending, providing they can find some additional, overpriced English talent. Manuel Pellegrini’s men are second favourites for a trophy that they won back in 2011 while neighbours Manchester United are close behind.
The fact that both Hull City and Aston Villa have reached the FA Cup Final in the last two seasons might suggest that it’s an open competition. Both teams had been fighting relegation but a Wembley appearance became just a welcome distraction as they went down to Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
But you only have to step back a further year – to 2013 – to find a shock winner of this showpiece occasion when Ben Watson’s injury time header saw the trophy head to Wigan Athletic for the first time while stunning a packed HTFC clubhouse.
You can also add Portsmouth’s 2008 Cup triumph to the list of surprise winners but in recent seasons, there are few shocks. 2009 winners – Chelsea, 2010 – Chelsea, 2011 – Manchester City, 2012 – (yawn) Chelsea.
It’s now 35 years since West Ham became the last team from outside the top flight to lift the FA Cup so don’t expect any change.
Luck of the Cup draw can play a part in determining the eventual winner. In 2004, Millwall made an unlikely appearance at The Millennium Stadium having played the mighty Walsall, Telford United, Burnley, Tranmere Rovers and Sunderland along the way.
At this point however, Arsenal fans will point out their route to the 2014 final which took in Spurs, Liverpool and Everton.
How far can we go?
The omens for Hertford Town aren’t that good: The last non-league winners of the FA Cup were Spurs back in 1901 but a Cup run is important to the club’s coffers and every win is lucrative to teams at this level.
Our opponents Kirkley and Pakefield FC finished 4th in the Eastern Counties Premier league in 2014-15 with 21 wins from 38 games. Their tally of 70 points was some way behind runaway winners Norwich United but the Royals were just two wins away from overhauling second placed Godmanchester Rovers.
Clearly it’s a tough tie and home advantage may prove to be important, although a trip to Lowestoft may have been a nice pit stop on the road to Wembley.