The qualifying rounds of the FA Cup are, in many ways, the competition at its very best. Before the big dogs rumble up and sour everything with their infuriating wealth, this is a pocket of football that remains somewhere in the vague vicinity of pure. These rounds provide even the smallest of clubs with an excuse to dream. An opportunity to think that maybe, just maybe, this will be their year to go all the way (to the First Round, that is, but it still counts).
When choosing one of this season’s Fourth Qualifying Round ties to go to, Carshalton v Dagenham & Redbridge immediately jumped out at me as an attractive option. Firstly, because it seemed as good a bet as any for witnessing an early cup upset. And secondly, because it’s fairly close to where I live. Still, I’d never been to this neck of the woods before, so was eager to tick off Carshalton’s War Memorial Sports Ground and check out the apparently-promising team assembled by up-and-coming home manager Peter Adeniyi. In this, his first management job, Adeniyi has already taken the Robins up from the Isthmian League South, and in their first season in the Isthmian Premier they finished impressively in second place (but were denied promotion via the play-offs). At the age of 39, Adeniyi can still play a bit too, and while his appearance in this one was restricted to a cameo from the bench, he still regularly pulls full 90-minute shifts round these parts.
In the dug-out next door was the sort-of-familiar face of ex-England caretaker manager Peter Taylor, who took some time pre-match to pose for selfies with fans eager to capture their moment with a tenuous football celebrity. Taylor is in his second season at the Dag & Red helm and, having managed only an 18th-place National League finish last term, his side arrived for this match sitting a slightly rosier 12th in the table.
The stadium itself feels in relatively good nick for one rapidly approaching its 100th birthday, with a small stand at one side and a sloping bank of terracing on the other. A special mention goes out to the toilets, which scored well on my personal ming-o-meter and even boasted soap and working hand-driers (apparent luxuries that football grounds – at all levels – often lack).
As the ground bathed in some unexpected October sunshine, spirits seemed high among the travelling supporters congregating on the far-side terrace. “We should definitely make the play-offs this year,” proclaimed one away fan to his mates, cleverly leaving his true confidence level ambiguous by pairing the word “definitely” with the word “should”.
Onto the match, and for much it D&R’s higher status was in abundant evidence, as they clung onto the ball and pressed and prodded at the home defence. Carshalton, however, weren’t budging, and you could see them growing in belief as their well-organised back-line held firm. Six minutes into the second half, a mix-up amongst the visiting defence allowed the hosts to take the lead through Bobby Price and the bumper home crowd came to life. D&R did get themselves back on level terms through a Reece Grant header, but it was the underdogs who booked their place in the First Round draw with just five minutes left. Adeniyi, who had only just changed out of his trackie bottoms, set up Ricky Korboa to weave his way towards goal and stroke home the winner. FA Cup upset: completed.
War Memorial Sports Ground (a.k.a. Colston Avenue)
Carshalton Athletic 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 1
FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round