Very pleased to say that this review was also featured on the Non League Show (17/02/2017)
South Shields v Newport Pagnell Town
Shields are many people's favourites to win the FA Vase this season. After promotion from the Division Two of the Northern League last season they have been in sparkling league form again this term, only being kept off top spot by local rivals North Shields. Unlike their cross-Tyne neighbours The Mariners have never won the Vase (although they will probably point to their superior FA Trophy record). The best they can boast in the Vase is a Quarter-Final appearance in the 75-76 season when they lost out to the now defunct Friar Lane Old Boys. Having already disposed of last season's winners Morpeth Town (who incidentally knocked out Shields on their way to Wembley) on their own patch and then returned from an epic South coast trip with a 5-2 win, they will be feeling confident with a home draw.
The Swans make the long journey North after disposing of another North-East side, Sunderland RCA, in the last round, coming from two goals down at half-time to win 3-2 in extra-time. They have the debatable honour of being the team that confirmed my non-league geek status last season. Whilst waiting for Non-League Finals Day to get started I was chatting to my father and spotted two people, about 30 yards away, walking towards us wearing identical football shirts. 'Newport Pagnell Town supporters', I said and sure enough they were, much to the astonishment of my father who couldn't believe I could recognise a Step 5 shirt from that distance. Clearly the distinctive badge gave it away, but enough of my non-league obsession. Newport Pagnell are treading new ground in the Vase having only ever managed a Fourth Round appearance before this season. That came in the 2011-12 season when, coincidentally, it was another Northern League side, Ashington, who put them out with a 3-2 win at Willen Road.
Home advantage and the recent Northern League domination points towards a South Shields win in this one but rule The Swans out at your peril. They are very comfortably placed in the UCL Premier but with no real chance to go for promotion, so the Vase is their big chance to shine.
Despite being one of the two Step 6 sides left in the competition, Southall have, arguably, the greatest FA Vase pedigree of all the remaining sides being the only one that has reached a Wembley Final. In the 1985-96 season they saw off Hanwell Town, Barton Rovers and Stevenage Borough, amongst others, before going down 3-0 to Halesowen Town in the Final. Of course, in those days, Southall played in the Isthmian League 2 South alongside such names as Woking, Whyteleafe and Hungerford Town. It's been quite a tough route to reach the Quarter-Finals having had to play 6 games on the road to get this far. In the league it is fair to say that Southall are too far back to mount a promotion push this season, so you can imagine they will be 100% focused on a Wembley date.
The Owls are a relatively new side, only formed in 1998, and this is only their fourth venture into the FA Vase. They did, however, reach the Fifth Round last season before losing out by 2-1 to Kidlington. Steady league progress has been made over the last decade with the side rising from the Humberside league through the Lincolnshire League and the Northern Counties East League One before promotion into Step 5 at the end of the 2013-14 season. Clee then managed a fourth place the following season, third last season and currently site thirteen points clear at the top this term. Quite a remarkable rise through the pyramid.
This one is very hard to call. Cleethorpes are riding high in the league having only lost twice all season and a Step above their opponents. However, Southall have home advantage and have already seen off three Step 5 sides away from home in the competition. It really could go either way.
The Midland League is guaranteed a representative in the Semi-Finals even if Bromsgrove fail to progress on Sunday. This last Quarter-Final is a all Midland League Premier Division affair between two sides in the upper reaches of the table.
Taking away a blip in the 14-15 season where they went out at to Heanor Town in Round 2, Coleshill have an impressive recent record in the Vase. Including this season, The Colemen have reached Round 4 or beyond in three of the last four attempts. They have, however, never got as far as the Quarter-Final before. Two very impressive away wins, 3-0 at Gorleston in Round 4 and 6-3 at Crowborough in Round 5, have seen them progress past any previous achievements. They have already earned a 1-1 draw at Khalsa in the league this season.
Khalsa are also breaking new ground in the competition in this their tenth attempt. Their first seven appearances in the Vase ended in first game defeats but they reached Round 1 last season and have progressed to the Quarter-Finals this term with some very impressive results, 2-1 at Alvechurch, 3-0 at Ely City in the last round and a very solid 3-0 replay win at Sleaford after an incredible 5-5 home draw in which Khalsa scored an injury equaliser, had a man sent off and took the lead twice in extra-time.
Nothing separated these two in the league clash and there will, no doubt, be very little between them in this game.
The Rouslers are the other Step 6 side left in the competition but having risen out of the ashes of Bromsgrove Rovers, a side who only 20 years ago were playing at Step 1 level, the club has a feel of a much bigger club. They play their games at Rovers' old ground, the Victoria Ground, which has just had it's capacity lifted to 3,000. They regularly attract crowds of over 600 for Midland League Division One games and will, no doubt, begin to move up the pyramid in the near future. The recent day incarnation made it to the 3rd Round of the Vase in only their second attempt, in 2014-15, eventually losing out to Thurnby (Leicester) Nirvana. This season they have disposed of Step 5 high-flyers Bristol Manor Farm and scored a colossal 30 goals in their 7 Vase games so far.
Devon based Buckland have never managed to get this far in the competition before although this is only their ninth attempt. The Bucks came up through the pyramid via the South West Peninsula League, winning the Premier League two years running, 2010 and 2011, before finishing runners-up in 2012 and gaining promotion to the Western League. They are currently in fourth spot in the Premier League twelve points adrift of Sporting’s previous conquest Bristol Manor Farm, but with two games in hand. So, not completely out of the promotion race but a big ask at this stage of the season.
As with all of the games, once you get to this stage of the competition every game is going to be quite tight. Buckland have the advantage of playing at a step above Bromsgrove but Sporting will be backed by a massive, vociferous crowd urging them on.