Cambridge United v Grimsby Town
Not too long ago, Mark Bonner’s name was hot property. Immense success at the helm of his boyhood club had led to links to jobs higher up the EFL pyramid, and he reportedly turned down the then-vacant Rotherham United position in favour of staying with Cambridge United. On current form however, future links won’t be coming anytime soon. Cambridge have just a single league win to their name since the 24th September, and have lost all but one of the other league fixtures in that time. It leaves the U’s 20th in the League One table, a single place above the relegation zone and thankful for the six point gap to the bottom four that currently exists. Their place in the Second Round Proper this weekend comes after eliminating National League North Curzon Ashton in a penalty shootout. Both the replay before it and the original tie at Tameside Stadium finished goalless. Cambridge’s small senior squad has been tested by recent absences. George Williams until recently has had to feature outside of his natural right-back position, with reserve goalkeeper Will Mannion playing all of the U’s last eight matches whilst Dimitar Mitov is out. Mitov carries FA Cup pedigree from last season, Mannion doesn’t.
Grimsby Town’s place in the Second Round Proper came after securing one of the results of the round. Lining up without a recognised striker against League One leaders Plymouth Argyle, the Mariners stormed to an emphatic 5-1 victory over the Pilgrims. The strikerless setup for that game was forced through senior absences, but in the weeks since Grimsby have welcomed the early return of John McAtee. The 23-year-old was signed by Luton Town in the summer and loaned back to Grimsby, a key part of the Mariners National League Play-Off campaign success and a player with the individual quality to change games. Paul Hurst will aim to make continually productive use of McAtee’s minutes as the attacking unit of Otis Khan, Harry Clifton, Brendan Kiernan and Gavan Holohan provide support.
Following their victory over Argyle, Grimsby Town won’t fear any League One side they face. With Cambridge United out of form, without their main goalkeeper, and worryingly out of ideas recently, the Mariners could have a good opportunity of avoiding a defeat at the Abbey Stadium and at the very last earning a replay ahead of the much anticipated Third Round draw.
Charlton Athletic v Stockport County
Charlton Athletic go up against a Stockport County side who are looking to claim another League One scalp after they knocked out Bolton Wanderers last season.
The Addicks have endured a poor opening few months of the campaign in the third tier and find themselves in a disappointing 14th place in the table. They will see this as poor considering they will have wanted to be in and around the promotion places but it is a reflection of where they are at right now. The London club were beaten 3-2 last time out in the Papa John’s Trophy by Plymouth Argyle and their assistant boss Scott Marshall, who was on media duties, said it was a ‘frustrating’ showing which has been the story of their season. In terms of injury news, Charlton have a whole host of players out of action at the moment such as number one goalkeeper Jojo Wollacott, defenders Eoghan O’Connell and Terell Thomas, midfielder Conor McGrandles, winger Diallang Jaiyesimi and attacker Miles Leaburn which isn’t ideal and leaves them down to the bare bones. To make matters worse, they have won just once in their last eight games in all competitions and their confidence will be low ahead of a tricky clash.
Stockport have turned a corner in League Two after a slow start and are doing well under Dave Challinor. They were beaten 2-1 by table toppers Leyton Orient last time out but matched the O’s throughout the pitch. Challinor said his side ‘didn’t deserve to lose’ and will be eager to see a response from his team this weekend. On the selection front, the Hatters have no fresh injury concerns which is a boost but have let striker Alex Reid leave for Oldham Athletic in the National League this week. This isn’t an issue though as fellow attacker Paddy Madden has been in fine form this term and perfectly capable of leading the line on his own, firing seven league goals to date. The FA Cup means more to County than it does to Charlton from a financial point of view and you have to fancy them causing problems at the Valley in front of an expected large away following. They have been in great form recently and have got used to picking up results, losing just once in their last eight outings altogether. In addition, the North West outfit haven’t lost in their last four away matches and have conceded just once in the process so will be in good spirits as they head down to London.
Oxford United v Exeter City
The mood has lifted around Oxford United after the return of their key forward. With Matty Taylor back available to start matches, the U’s enter this weekend on a seven match unbeaten run, albeit four of those games have ended 1-1. Karl Robinson’s 4-2-3-1 is back to featuring attacking players in suitable positions. James Henry and Billy Bodin have recently featured in wide roles with Marcus Browne operating behind Matty Taylor. 18-year-old Gatlin O’Donkor is called upon from the bench later into matches as he adjusts to life in senior football. Leeds United loanee Lewis Bate, Marcus McGuane and the extremely influential Cameron Brannagan can all operate in the deeper midfield roles. There are still questions marks however about how much progress Oxford can make long term with impractical full-backs in Ciaran Brown and Djavan Anderson. Brown looks more suited to a left-sided defensive role, whilst Anderson is perhaps better suited to a role further up the right flank. The pair take up those positions for now due to limited personnel.
Oxford United put in one of their best displays of the season when they beat Exeter City last month in League One. The result continues to look impressive as the Grecians continue to impress under new manager Gary Caldwell. The Scot has simply continued the good work done under Matt Taylor, retaining the front-footed 3-4-1-2 formation and the personnel within it. A 2-0 loss at home to Ipswich Town, League One’s strongest performing side, is not too great a dampener on Exeter’s ambitions and progress. The front pairing of Jevani Brown and Fulham loanee Jay Stansfield continue to catch the eye, both primarily for their creativity and incisive passing that benefits the other forwards in the team with them. Archie Collins dictates the tempo in midfield, his central partner often rotating between Harry Kite and Rekeem Harper. Jack Sparkes and Jake Caprice operate as dynamic wing-backs, with Caldwell awaiting the return of defensive bodies that will allow him to push Joshua Key out of his right-centre-back role and into a more comfortable wing-back alternative.
Oxford United v Exeter City presents an encouraging opportunity for both sides to seize the initiative and progress into the Third Round of the FA Cup. Had this tie taken place a month earlier, Exeter could be heavily fancied against an out-of-shape Oxford. With the U’s frontline looking much healthier now though, the U’s can carry confidence about doing the work required to go through. Both sides are likely to attack from the off at the Kassam Stadium.
Sheffield Wednesday v Mansfield Town
Sheffield Wednesday should have no problems getting past Mansfield Town in the FA Cup this weekend.
The Owls have been going well in League One this season as they eye promotion back to the Championship. They are 3rd in the league and are only a point off Ipswich Town in 2nd place and three points off table toppers Plymouth Argyle after their impressive recent run of form. The Yorkshire outfit beat Shrewsbury Town 1-0 at home last time out courtesy of defender Mark McGuinness’ header and that results showed their ability to grind out wins. Boss Darren Moore said he was pleased to see his side ‘keep’ their consistency going. In terms of injury news, attacker Josh Windass is a doubt after picking up a knock but that isn’t too much of an issue as the squad has strong strength in depth. The likes of Alex Mighten, Mallik Wilks, Lee Gregory and Michael Smith are available and should all cause serious problems to a League Two opponent. Sheffield Wednesday will want to reach the 3rd Round when all the Premier League sides come in and based on their current form, you can’t bet against them. They are unbeaten in their last 10 games in all competitions (after 90 minutes) with their last defeat coming against Plymouth on 4th October.
Mansfield’s priority this term is getting out of the fourth tier and the pressure is on them after they lost in the play-off final in the last campaign. Therefore, the Stags may secretly see the cup as a bit of a distraction from their main goal and losing on Saturday may not be the worst thing in the world for them. The Nottinghamshire club lost 3-0 away at Harrogate Town in their last game which was a shocking result considering their opponents are way down in 20th place. Manager Nigel Clough said his players didn’t ‘defend properly’ so if they do that against the Owls then they will be in for a long afternoon. Winger Stephen McLaughlin is a doubt for the fixture which is a blow as his experience would come in handy for the trip to Hillsborough, with former Sheffield United man Kieran Wallace the most likely candidate to take his place. Mansfield have recently signed left-back Lewis Page on a free transfer but he hasn’t played much football following his departure from Harrogate Town last summer so you have to worry for his fitness if he starts. The Stags are a decent side in League Two but will come unstuck here, especially after their horrendous defending last weekend.
Wrexham v Farnborough
Involved in an engrossing National League title battle with Notts County, Wrexham’s pursuit of a long-awaited return to the Football League could be over this season. The Red Dragons possess a perfect home record so far in 2022-23, including in the FA Cup where they beat Oldham Athletic 3-0 to book their spot in the Second Round Proper. Wrexham average 3.7 goals scored at home in just their league fixtures alone, the frontline of physical presence Ollie Palmer and the lively Paul Mullin playing a big part in that immense firepower. Elliott Lee roams behind the backline as a influential creator, with James Jones often dictacting the tempo in central midfield. Wrexham’s set-piece threat can be just as strong as their open play threat. The long, flat throw of Ben Tozer is a weapon that has been fully utilised by Phil Parkinson during matches, with fellow centre-backs Jordan Tunnicliffe and Aaron Hayden always targets to attack it. 25-year-old Hayden, signed from Carlisle United in the summer of 2021, has nine goals to his name already this season and is Wrexham’s third top-scorer behind both Paul Mullin and Ollie Palmer.
Farnborough, currently 15th in the National League South, have a trip to the Racecourse Ground as the reward for a 2-0 win away at League Two Sutton United in the First Round. That victory and subsequent results have extended Boro’s unbeaten run to 11 matches in all competitions. They last tasted defeat against Chelmsford City on the 27th September. Manager Spencer Day possesses a squad that contains some former EFL names, including midfielders Sam Deering and Kenny Davis as well as experienced forward Ricky Holmes.
Farnborough may have beaten higher-ranked opposition to reach this stage, but they will have their work cut out to progress any further in the FA Cup this season. Wrexham have been faultless at the Racecourse Ground in 22-23, with their immense firepower causing problems for every defence from both open play and set piece situations. The Red Dragons will be eyeing a place in the draw with the really big boys, and they could end up getting there in style.
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