The road to Wembley – Kettering 3 v 1 Southend Manor
The only emotion it was possible to feel after Saturday’s 3-1 win against Southend Manor was relief. We made it through, but it would have been an almighty shock if we had lost. When the draw was made, the ET’s Jon Dunham pointed out that if Kettering had faced a team from a similar difference in league positions above us it would have been a team with a play off place in the Championship. A tough enough ask but, while this may have been true on pure league places, Kettering’s professional status should have made that gap much easier to close.
If Kettering make it to the third round there is plenty of chance to be annoyed by other fans patronising the non-league, so I don’t want to do that to Southend Manor. They deserved to be approached in the way we would have done any other team and, in the second half, we did just that. Despite some heroic defending and a huge amount of effort, in the end they just didn’t quite have enough.
But it is easy to see how they got this far. They were very well organised and broke well. With a kinder draw they could well have been in the hat for the first round. I am sure they will win their league and should even have a good run in the FA Vase.
In the end it was JP Marna who made the difference, making his triumphant comeback to the ring. It was a match made for him. JP must have been reminded of the Blue Square North days, when he would terrorise defenders for fun.
Whether by luck or by design, Stimson played him in exactly the same way that Cooper used to: wait for the defenders to get a tired and then send on JP to torment them. There was one point when he ghosted past his man to the right of the goal and then flashed the shot just wide of the far post that was magical to watch. I will admit that at one point I did think, ‘it would almost be worth getting relegated, just to see JP be able to do this every week’.
Against JPs trickery and McKenzie’s vision it was always going to be difficult for Manor to keep Kettering out in the second half. But they gave it their best effort. Again, I don’t want to patronise their fans, who gave a great account of themselves, but at almost 1,000 the attendance was 100 times bigger than at their opening home game of the season.
If Kettering were to play in front of a crowd 100 times bigger than our smallest attendance, we would be playing at a packed out Nou Camp. And if we play eight games in the competition we will be in the FA Cup final. We may have been taking the piss, but it really was a big day for them.
But this is what the FA Cup is all about. I drove past Wembley Stadium this today, and although there is no chance that we will get there, the fact is that there is still hope. We are now only two wins from an away game at Old Trafford, or having the chance to test Arsenal with some set pieces at home. We will never win the cup but I am sure that our memories of a game like that would live longer than the memories of FA Cup finals for fans of either of those two teams.
Next up is Sutton or Leatherhead. Although an away draw is never the first choice, there were plenty of worse draws available. If we apply ourselves correctly we should beat either of them. Having said that, I am sure we are all rooting for Leatherhead on Tuesday.
The best part is that whoever goes through, both sets of fans will know that a win and a helpful draw in the next round is all that stands in their way of a match that could transform their club. It probably won’t happen, but it might. And that’s all that matters. That is what makes the FA Cup the best knock out competition in the world. And anyone who says otherwise has no soul.