FA Cup 2023-24: The four non-league clubs looking to spring a third-round upset
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FA Cup 2023-24: The four non-league clubs looking to spring a third-round upset

FA Cup third-round weekend is here – when lower-league and non-league teams dream of causing an almighty upset against opponents from higher up the football ladder.

FA Cup 2023-24: The four non-league clubs looking to spring a third-round upset
FA Cup 2023-24: The four non-league clubs looking to spring a third-round upset

More than 600 non-league clubs entered this season’s competition, which started way back on 4 August with the extra preliminary round.

Four of those have made it to the third round, when clubs from the Premier League and Championship enter.

Who are they? Who do they face? What are they saying about their chances?

BBC Sport takes a closer look at the non-league clubs looking to make headlines this weekend.

Maidstone United (home v Stevenage – Saturday, 12:30 GMT)

The lowest-ranked club left in the draw are Maidstone United who play in National League South – the sixth tier of English football.

Managed by George Elokobi, who played in the Premier League for Wolves, the Stones have already knocked out EFL opposition in the shape of League Two high-fliers Barrow.

The Kent non-league side were hoping to be rewarded with a tie against Premier League opposition.

But a home match with League One Stevenage at least gives Maidstone a fighting chance of making further progress and of picking up a further £105,000 to add to the £126,375 they have already pocketed in prize money from this season’s run.

Maidstone captain Gavin Hoyte, 33, was on loan at Watford from Arsenal when the Hornets reached the fifth round in 2009.

He has also represented Trinidad and Tobago and recalls a brief encounter with Lionel Messi in front of 40,000 Argentina fans in Buenos Aires in 2014.

“They won a corner and I suddenly found myself standing next to him. It was the only time I got anywhere near him,” says Hoyte, whose side lost 3-0 to Argentina.

Leagues and positions: 4th in National League South v 7th in League One.

Maidstone in the FA Cup this season: second qualifying round – away v Steyning Town 4-1; third qualifying round – away v Winchester City 2-0; fourth qualifying round – away v Torquay United 2-0; first round – away v Chesham United 2-0; second round – home v Barrow 2-1.

George Elokobi on reaching the third round: “It’s important we understand the magnitude of the achievement. People are taking notice of what Maidstone United is about as a football club. Every little bit of positive exposure for our club is good.”

Did you know? Since the last round, Maidstone have sold leading scorer Levi Amantchi to National League Bromley for an undisclosed fee. Former Chesterfield forward Amantchi has scored half of Maidstone’s 12 FA Cup goals this season.

FA Cup 2023-24: The four non-league clubs looking to spring a third-round upset
FA Cup 2023-24: The four non-league clubs looking to spring a third-round upset

Aldershot Town (away v West Brom – Sunday, 14:00)

Excitement is building in Aldershot as the town’s football team prepare to make a first appearance in the third round since 2013.

The Hampshire club are expected to be well backed after being allocated 5,700 tickets – more than double their average home attendance – for the tie at Championship club West Brom.

The Shots are looking to secure a hat-trick of EFL scalps after defeating League Two clubs Swindon and Stockport in the previous two rounds.

In an extraordinary first-round tie, they were 7-0 up at Swindon before eventually winning 7-4.

Two Aldershot players have FA Cup hat-tricks this season – former Switzerland youth international forward Lorent Tolaj and ex-Maidstone striker Jack Barham.

Leagues and positions: 5th in Championship v 8th in National League.

Aldershot in the FA Cup this season: fourth qualifying round – home v Lewes 4-1; first round – away v Swindon Town 7-4; second round – away v Stockport County 1-0 (replay after 2-2 draw).

Aldershot boss Tommy Widdrington: “We’ve got another terrific day to look forward to. How West Brom approach the game I don’t know, but we’ll get to watch them before we play them so we can have a game plan.”

Did you know? Tommy Widdrington, 52, played with Alan Shearer at Southampton. Widdrington’s elder son, Kai, is a professional dancer on Strictly Come Dancing while his other son, Theo, plays for Aldershot.

Chesterfield (away v Watford – Saturday, 15:00)

Chesterfield boss Paul Cook is the last English manager to beat Pep Guardiola in the FA Cup.

Kirkby-born Cook was Wigan’s manager when the League One club upset Manchester City in the fifth round in 2018.

Since then City have won the FA Cup twice and lost three semi-finals – to Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal in 2020, Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea in 2021 and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in 2022.

Will Grigg scored Wigan’s winner against City and, six years on, has reunited with Cook at Chesterfield, where his 13 league goals this season have helped propel the Derbyshire club to the top of the National League.

The Spireites will be backed by around 4,000 travelling fans at Vicarage Road, with many confident of an upset after seeing their side defeat League One clubs Portsmouth and Leyton Orient to get to this stage.

Leagues and positions: 10th in Championship v 1st in National League.

Chesterfield in the FA Cup this season: fourth qualifying round – home v Kettering 5-0; first round – home v Portsmouth 1-0; second round – home v Leyton Orient 1-0.

Chesterfield boss Paul Cook: “We’re delighted to be in the third round. We have got a ridiculously tough tie at Watford, but we will go there and really enjoy it.”

Did you know? Chesterfield, relegated from the EFL in 2018, have reached the FA Cup third round for the third successive season as a non-league club.

Eastleigh (away v Newport County – Saturday, 15:00)

Playing in the third round is nothing new for Eastleigh – this will be the third time they have featured at this stage in nine seasons.

In 2015-16 they went out to Bolton after taking the then-Championship club to a replay, before falling to Brentford – another Championship side at the time – in 2016-17.

A trip to Newport, anchored in the bottom half of League Two, gives the National League club a realistic chance of reaching the fourth round for the first time.

Hundreds of fans are travelling to Wales from Hampshire with high hopes following their side’s memorable win over League One Reading in the second round.

Eastleigh’s team features Paul McCallum, the National League’s leading scorer with 22 goals.

Leagues and positions: 18th in League Two v 11th in National League.

Eastleigh in the FA Cup this season: fourth qualifying round – home v Dover Athletic 1-0; first round – home v Boreham Wood 5-1; second round – home v Reading 2-1.

Eastleigh boss Richard Hill: “It feels fantastic. There were 3,500 Eastleigh fans here [for the win in the second round]. You know I don’t get emotional, people call me dour and people tell me to smile, but that was big for this football club.”

Did you know? Eastleigh are nicknamed the Spitfires after the plane which was designed and manufactured in the town, while the maiden flight of the Spitfire happened at Eastleigh Aerodrome.

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