Many have questioned over the past few years whether the FA Cup still has its aura and magic that has been associated with it over its 146 year history.
But what we have seen in this year’s competition is that even if it does not mean as much as it did to the so-called big clubs, it clearly still means everything to the Non-League and Football League teams.
Yesterday will go down in FA Cup history as one of its greatest days. The National League leaders Lincoln City defeated a team 81 places above them in the English footballing pyramid in Burnley to reach the Quarter-Final stage.
The record-breaking Lincoln are the first Non-League side to reach the Quarter-Final stage of the competition since 1914. They played brilliantly in a performance full of passion and work rate, just as you would expect from a smaller club going to play one of the big boys.
They did deserve the win as well in my view. This is all the more impressive looking at Burnley’s team which included the likes of Andre Gray, Tom Heaton and Joey Barton, who feature prominently in the Premier League on a weekly basis.
It was refreshing to watch a cup tie which pitted two teams against each other who battled for every ball and were willing to fight tooth and nail to get through to the next round. The fact that Lincoln were able to bring this attitude out of Burnley just goes to show how well they played to frustrate their top flight opponents.
This was typified by the in-game rivalry between the infamous Joey Barton and Lincoln’s forward Matt Rhead. The latter was a constant presence and he caused major problems for his opponents all afternoon.
Rhead is deceptively good with the ball at his feet for a man of his size and he was a nightmare to deal with in the air for Burnley’s backline.
There were a number of colossal performances from the Lincoln side. The central defensive duo of Sean Raggett and Luke Waterfall were imposing and they stuck to their jobs impeccably all game to restrict the opportunities handed to Burnley’s dangerous front two of Sam Vokes and Andre Gray to an absolute minimum.
It was this defensive duo who made the decisive difference at the other end of the pitch with just a minute remaining. In a clear tactical ploy, Waterfall veered off away from any potential markers at the back post.
His header sent the ball into the group of bodies a few yards out from goal and it fell perfectly for the rising Raggett who’s resulting header beat Tom Heaton to send his teammates and fans into a state of euphoria.
A large portion of the credit for Lincoln’s success should lie with their management team, made up of Danny and Nicky Cowley.
After a successful season at Braintree last year, leading them to a 3rd place finish in the National League, the brothers moved to Lincoln in the summer and the results have been remarkable.
They are currently three points clear at the top of the league with a couple of games in hand, with Quarter-Finals in both the FA Trophy and the FA Cup to come.
As you could see from yesterday’s performance, the Cowley brothers pride themselves on their side’s passion and grit and in the end, their togetherness and effort was the difference between themselves and their Premier League opponents as they achieved what seemed to be the impossible by toppling Burnley.
The players, management and fans of Lincoln are a credit to the National League and they are representing the Non-League in glorious fashion alongside Sutton United.
This year’s FA Cup has shown that anything is possible in this historic competition and you never know how much further this incredible journey can continue on for Lincoln.
There is no doubt that this victory will be forever hailed as one of the biggest and most surprising in FA Cup history. Lincoln have highlighted perfectly that the magic of the cup has not gone away just yet and this run shows again just why the FA Cup is still widely regarded as the most unpredictable and illustrious competition in world football.