Based on the past two seasons, no Oxford City fan could argue that 'the magic of the cup' is anything but alive and well. A new FA Cup campaign, however, brings a new set of challenges and the first of these is certainly a tough one – a visit from near-neighbours North Leigh in the Second Qualifying Round.
This is a stage of the competition which often leaves fans (and maybe even coaching teams) diving into the deepest recesses of Wikipedia to learn as much as they can about their opposition. City, however, need only look back to the end of last season and their hard-fought 4-3 victory in the semi-final of the Oxfordshire Senior Cup – a competition which the Hoops would go on to win with a similarly free-scoring victory over Banbury.
It will come as a surprise to nobody that the bulk of the meetings between the two sides have come in the aforementioned competition, but this will be the first time the two sides have come face-to-face in the FA Cup. They do so with an entirely even record – each side with four wins and no matches drawn.
Whilst an FA Cup tie always leaves both sides with plenty to play for, the presence of an impressive 11 (eleven) former City players in the Millers' squad brings an extra layer of intrigue to the fixture. Among them are the likes of Kynan Isaac, Adam Learoyd, Callum NcNish, and Andy Gunn – all of whom will be familiar to fans as first-team regulars – alongside a host of players who made significant contributions to the now defunct Oxford City Nomads. Its a similar story in the dugout with Craig Dore and Darren James having previously worked together as part of the Hoops' highly-rated Under 18s setup.
When the two sides met last season it was a somewhat similar story: whilst some of the names may have been different, the Hoops were tested by a number of players who had a little extra incentive to prove themselves. The Millers found themselves 4-1 down with a quarter of an hour ago, but rallied hard to produce what was very nearly a stunning comeback with two quickfire goals bringing them within touching distance of taking the game to extra time.
City had needed only three minutes to establish a lead – the prolific Kabby Tshimanga evading his man to fire home at the near post – and twice went close through Josh Ashby and Brandon Thomas-Asante as a frenetic half somehow ended without an other goal. They were, however, quick out of the blocks after the restart with Thomas-Asante going one better in the 50th minute before Bobson Bawling made it 3-0 with a powerful effort. North Leigh's George Seacole got what looked to be a 70th minute consolation goal, but it was quickly cancelled out by Reece Fleet.
The Hoops could have been home and dry were it not for a second Thomas-Asante goal being ruled out for offside, but instead found themselves fighting to stay ahead as Tyriq Hunt and Bradley Singh both netted late on.
With the Hoops having one just one of their last five games compared to the Millers' three, this fixture looks set to be a hotly contested one!
As has become FA Cup tradition at Oxford City, there will be a special edition of our matchday programme available for Saturday's game – priced at the usual £2.50, it features all of the usual content plus a special, one-off front and back cover. We may be a tad biased, but this is definitely one for the collection!