Tommy Widdrington’s Shots had knocked out League Two Swindon Town in the previous round in an extraordinary eleven goal thriller, eventually prevailing seven-four. However, Stockport County were in equally fine fettle and flying high at the top of the very same division as the Robins. Would there be another upset ?
Cian Harries’ last minute equaliser had taken the tie to a replay at the Hatters home of Edgeley Park, to keep Aldershot in the competition. Once again though, they rose to the occasion and it was defender Olly Scott who proved to be the surprise hero, popping up with an eighty-eighth minute clincher to set-up a third round meeting with Championship promotion hopefuls West Bromwich Albion, at The Hawthorns.
Only two points separate the Hampshire side from the play-off places where Bromley continue to be Chesterfields’ closest challengers, despite Barnet having a game in hand. Although the Bees’ FA Cup adventure finally ended at the hands of Newport County, as the League Two strugglers persevered in a second bite at the cherry.
Wealdstone – one of just two part-time teams remaining in the top division – are handily placed slap bang in the middle, a mere three points behind fellow form side Eastleigh who, in turn trail the top seven by the same narrow margin. The Spitfires also continue to (jointly) fly the flag in the Cup; sealing an impressive home win over League One Reading to earn a cross-border trip to Barnet’s conqueror’s, Newport thanks to the National League’s top scorer Paul McCallum’s winner deep into stoppage time, in front of more than five thousand fervent fans at the Silverlake Stadium.
Chesterfield complete a happy hatrick of hopefuls, as they seem unstoppable, whoever they face; adding the scalp of Leyton Orient to an ever-growing list of victims, with the Hornets of Watford at Vicarage Road up next.
They were nearly joined by York City, putting their league struggles to one side to almost upset former winners Wigan Athletic. Eventually bowing out to the only goal of the game.
Some seasonal cheer, dropped down Southend United’s chimney when it was announced, virtually the night before Christmas, that the protracted takeover by Australian Businessman Justin Rees had at last been completed.
Happier times then for the Roots Hall faithful and supporters of both Woking and AFC Fylde will be hoping the good times will roll again too, after making the caretaker duo of Michael Doyle and Chris Beech the permanent incumbents to their Managerial hot seats. The fact that the bottom four are the promoted quartet of last year, including AFC, indicates the difficulties faced by those new to the top table, while Woking look nervously over their shoulders as they aim to avoid a return South, so to speak. An FA Trophy humbling in Somerset at the hands of lower-ranked Weston-super-Mare not aiding their cause.
A new name will also be engraved onto the silverware in May, after holders FC Halifax Town were vanquished at home by Altrincham in a tense penalty shootout. Spot-kicks saw Oldham Athletic edge out Southern Premier Central Mickleover Sports as well but not even that particular lottery could save York from bowing out at Step Four Nantwich Town. Nor, indeed, Boreham Wood at Bath City or Southend against Hampton & Richmond Borough. National North Peterborough Sports were more accurate from twelve yards than Senior hosts Dagenham & Redbridge, as were the North’s bottom club Bishop’s Stortford, who accounted for Ebbsfleet United. Ninety minutes failed to see a verdict reached between FA Cup heroes Eastleigh and Aldershot, so pens it was for them too, which saw Eastleigh come out on top. Sadly though for Oxford City, it’s back to their ongoing fight for league survival thanks to the South’s Chelmsford City bagging the singular strike of their third round clash.
Up North, Alfreton Town suffered the agony of a late, late postponement of a live FA Cup TV date with Walsall but made up for it by holding the League Two team to a goalless draw in front of more than twelve hundred in Derbyshire. Before counting the cost in the replay when they bowed out at the Poundland Bescot Stadium to the game’s only goal. This might account, partially at least, for a dip in league form, coinciding with a drop to eleventh in the table, although a gap of only three points ensures an extension to the campaign by way of the play-offs is still very much on.
South Shields have also slipped down the standings to sit marginally outside the top seven, while goal difference is all that separates table-toppers Scunthorpe United and Tamworth. However, it’s the one hundred percenters of Hereford that has seen the men of Edgar Street shoot up to third, courtesy of four wins out of four in December, to go alongside an FA Trophy victory versus Isthmian South Central South Park (Reigate).
Chorley, Chester and Scarborough Athletic continue to keep chase; all remaining firmly entrenched in the upper echelons of the form table and it’s league equivalent.
While it might be just the Lancastrians (Chorley) of the trio left in the FA Trophy, the latter from over the other side of the divide in Yorkshire watched their FA Cup adventure finally come to an end at the hands of Forest Green Rovers, to draw to a close the North Division’s interest in the competition for another year. Scarborough did fare better than most though, due to FGR’s administrative error concerning permission papers over a loan player failing to reach The FA and thus giving Boro one more go and one last big payday, via a subsequent ruling that swelled their coffers meaning all the gate receipts from the rearranged fixture stayed at the Flamingo Land Stadium.
Curzon Ashton round-up the leading seven spots, where they might be helped by being able to concentrate on the league via a home humbling in the Trophy by Macclesfield of the Northern Premier Premier. Box-to-box midfielder Isaac Sinclair shone brightly and collected the division’s Player of the Month for November, with his star quality showing no signs of dimming as December came and went.
Three is certainly not the magic number for either Spennymoor Town or Southport, as the bottom two in the form guide occupy places in the bottom half of the standings. ‘Port also became the latest to feel the force of Chesterfield courtesy of six-one hammering in the FA Trophy. Perhaps Gaffer Jim Bentley is feeling the effects of picking up November’s Manager of the Month prize ?!
Previous victors Brackley Town are out following a defeat on penalties at South foes Welling United but are going okay in the league, in spite of crashing to three losses in the last four games. A tightness of two (points) is all that keeps them outside the play-off zone.
Money troubles have unfortunately resurfaced at fellow strugglers King’s Lynn Town, leaving them with more than just National League North survival to worry about. Something that Gloucester City can now focus all their attention on after they were edged out in an eight-goal thriller at local (South Division) rivals Chippenham Town.
A first away win of the season earned Bishop’s Stortford three very welcome points at the team immediately above them, Darlington, although both remain well adrift of safety. Defeat in Darlo’s next outing at Scarborough on Boxing Day proving to be the end of the road for Manager Josh Gowling, who departed Blackwell Meadows little more than three months after joining the North Easterners.
Nearly ten thousand gathered at the Racecourse Ground to see an intriguing matchup between renowned FA Cup fighters Wrexham and Yeovil Town, which left the Glovers defeated but not downhearted. An unbeaten December sees them sitting very pretty atop the South standings, ten points clear of second-placed Hampton & Richmond Borough, who’s Manager Mel Gwinnett steered through yet another month without tasting defeat to show that winning Manager of the Month is sometimes a blessing and not a curse.
Another side to have merged November’s form into December have been Slough Town. Overcoming a slow start to lift themselves away from the drop zone, helped in no small part by four goals in six games from experienced midfield maestro Johnny Goddard.
Bath City and Worthing, accompanied by the United’s of Torquay and Maidstone are all locked together on forty points, while Chelmsford City trail the quartet by a hair’s breadth of two to claim the final spot in the leading seven teams, as we get set to welcome in 2024.
Bumper Boxing Day crowds have certainly been royally entertained over the festive period, particularly the Sussex Transport Community Stadium, of course, where a stunning five-one demolition of Maidstone was given star billing in light of the Stones FA Cup exploits this term. Bivesh Gurung may have blotted his copybook when seeing Red at Woodside Road but few will forget his stunning late strike to send League Two Play-Off chasers Barrow crashing out of the competition, at a sold-out Gallagher Stadium. Stevenage are the visitors there in round three.
The Romans of Bath have also enjoyed a delightful December, to lead the awesome foursome pursuing the Glovers of Yeovil but they also upset Boreham Wood in the FA Trophy to keep alive their hopes of a trip to Wembley too.
Aveley’s form has nosedived but they are far from out of the promotion picture, in an increasingly tight division. Tenth place means they are no more than three points outside the top seven, although a fast-improving Hemel Hempstead Town took a maximum six out of six either side of Christmas to breath down their necks a single point further back. Three-and-a-half thousand packed into Clarence Park to see them play Scrooge with a Boxing Day victory at the home of fierce local rivals St Albans City.
Farnborough, Tonbridge Angels and Braintree Town fill in the missing spaces in the top half of the table, as the scramble for supremacy below those coveted front seven spots hots up, leaving many with something to aim for going into the New Year.
Noah’s Ark famously welcomed the animals in “two by two” and so did the bottom two in National League South. In a Managerial sense that is.
Steve King’s brief time at Havant & Waterlooville came to an unhappy conclusion; even the division’s most successful ever Boss couldn’t turn things around at Westleigh Park in his three short months in charge. An upturn in form since had sparked hopes of a prolonged upturn in fortunes, only for defeats in their next/last two matches to take them back to the basement.
Dover Athletic also opted to replace ex-player Mitch Brundle with Academy Head Mike Sandman, who is assisted by another one-time White in the shape of Jake Leberl. An unexpected win at home to previously high-flying Aveley, met with Havant’s loss at the hands of Farnborough, kept them two precious points above their relegation rivals but both still have a lot of ground to make up if they wish to stay up.
A takeover at Truro City has had an immediate, galvanising effect on the exiled Cornish Club. Three wins in their last three games, coupled with a heightened hope of ending a three-year absence from their home county has elevated them to the top of the current form guide, as well as eight points away from danger in sixteenth and holding games in hand on all but one of those around them.
Weston-super-Mare’s, Hampton’s, Bath’s, Chelmsford’s, Chippenham’s and Welling’s FA Trophy exploits have been complimented by progression for Aveley, eight-seven on spot-kicks against Southern Premier South Hungerford Town and Torquay at our vanquishers Frome Town. Weymouth must turn their attentions to league matters though, following an exit to another Southern Premier side in Hendon.
Only the dreaded dotted line is currently keeping the wolves from the Terrras’ (trap) door.