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FA Cup 3rd round: Preview, schedule, and what you need to know

England’s top teams enter the FA Cup this weekend and the Premier League takes a break. Here’s what you’ve missed.

Macclesfield Town v Oxford United - Emirates FA Cup - Second Round - Moss Rose Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

It's FA Cup third round weekend! Hooray!

This is the stage where all the big teams get involved, but if you're also jumping into the competition at this stage, there's no need to worry. You've hardly missed anything. Just the ... counts on fingers ... 672 matches so far. And that's not including replays.

Don't panic. Here is SB Nation Soccer's official catch-up guide, here to let you know which teams have been making surprising runs through the tournament while you were busy. All the important questions are answered. Who lost 12-0 in their only game? Which team blew a three-goal lead against a team three divisions higher? Who fought a bear? And where, precisely, has The Magic Of The Cup™ been spending its time?

To start, a quick structural refresher. The pyramid of English football runs very deep, and the FA Cup, while it doesn't reach all the way down to the bottom, goes down to Tier 10. All the way from the Premier League, Tier 1, to various regional competitions such as the Northern Counties East League Division One.

Obviously, the idea of Manchester United playing Pontefract Collieries would give Jose Mourinho a severe attack of the vapors, so there's any number of qualifying rounds to get through. And we begin with:

The preliminary qualifying rounds

These games, between teams from Tiers 8, 9, and 10 of the pyramid, tend to pass unmarked, but there's something wonderful about this early stage of the competition. In part, this is because it reaffirms that English football isn't just about kicking people and distrusting clever foreigners. It's also about, in some far more fundamental way, the vast and sprawling roots of amateur and semi-professional football that feed, in rather tangled fashion, into the professional leagues.

This is their moment, when they can look up and see Wembley. Yes, it's at the other end of a long road they have almost no hope of traversing, and yes, that arch is weirdly underwhelming, but still. It's conceptually pleasing.

Mostly, though, it's because there is a simple joy in scanning the fixture list. Not the results and the inevitable hammerings — this year's consolation prize goes to Huntingdon Town FC, dismissed 12-0 by Yaxley — but the teams. Britain is good at place names, and football is good at sticking peculiar words after place names, and the preliminary rounds of the FA Cup brings these two proficiencies together in beautiful harmony. Billingham Synthonia, Handsworth Parramore, Ashby Ivanhoe, Coventry Sphinx. And the quite magnificent Oldland Abbotonians.

Then there's the teams that cover more than one place, and as such cannot help but sound like Dickensian law firms: Peacehaven & Telscombe; Brimscombe & Thrupp; Norton & Stockton Ancients. Essentially, if you've ever enjoyed the way the syllables of England pile up against each other — and the fact that much of the country sounds like an affectionate parody of itself — then the early stages of the FA Cup are your Mecca, your Eldorado and your West Didsbury & Chorlton.

From a sporting perspective, the most interesting story of the early stages came at the replay between Shawbury United and Coventry United. The Coventry club were leading 1-0 away at Shawbury, when the floodlights failed — or were perhaps turned off — with just a few minutes left in the game. An FA investigation determined that the home team were responsible, and Coventry were sent through.

The qualifying rounds

After the preliminary rounds come four qualifying rounds, in which the teams from the upper levels of non-league football, Tiers 5, 6, and 7, are folded into the mix. It's at this point that we can start to look for the sides that have taken early delivery of The Magic Of The Cup™, and are progressing far beyond their expectations.

This year, two teams from the ninth tier made it all the way from the preliminaries through to the fourth qualifying round, the point at which the teams from the National League — the highest level of non-league football, formerly the Conference — are introduced. The first were Bishop Auckland, of the Northern League Division One, who made their way past Ossett Albion, Trafford, and Farsley Celtic before finally succumbing to Stockport County. Quite Magical™, on balance.

But Westfields, of the Midland League Premier Division, went one better. After seeing off St. Ives Town in the first qualifying round, Highgate United in the second, and Walton Casuals in the third, they were rewarded with a home tie against Leiston, who play their football two tiers higher. But they secured a 2-1 upset, in the process sending their social media team into raptures.

However, this wasn't quite the biggest upset of the round. Fifth tier Wrexham, one of the oldest professional football clubs in the world, were taken to a replay and then beaten by Stamford AFC, who come from a small town in the East Midlands and play their league games a whole three tiers lower.

Non-league tangent time: Stamford's nickname, the Daniels, is taken from Daniel Lambert of nearby Leicester, whose body is buried in a local churchyard and was, reputedly, the fattest man in English history.

Lambert, who was reckoned to weigh over 700 lbs. at his largest, made his fortune in London by charging the curious a shilling to come and look at his girth. He became quite a fashionable tourist attraction, and even met King George III. He also once fought a bear in the streets of Leicester, and while there is some debate as to whether he won, you have to admire a man who can take a bear to the judges.

The first round proper

Always thought that name was a bit rude. Do the other rounds not count? Anyway, this is where the 32 teams that made it through the qualifiers (and, in Westfields' case, the preliminaries) are joined by the 48 teams from Leagues One and Two.

Westfields got a relatively friendly draw of another non-league club, Curzon Ashton, but were eventually eliminated after a replay. Stamford, for their part, were comfortably seen off by League Two Hartlepool. Another Tier 8 side, Taunton Town, took the National League's Barrow to a replay, but couldn't quite make it through. As such, the torch passed to Tier 7 Stourbridge, who overcame Tier 6 Whitehawk and became the lowest-ranked side to progress.

There were a few more upsets, as well, as National League sides overturned their theoretical betters. After a draw at home, Eastleigh went away to League One Swindon and basically thumped them: more possession, more shots on goal, and crucially more actual goals, 3 to 1. Solihull Moors managed a draw away at League Two Yeovil Town and then won the replay back at home. And Macclesfield Town scored the only goal of the game away at League One Walsall.

However, perhaps the biggest shock of the round came as Brackley Town, of the National League North (Tier 6), overcame League One Gillingham by the odd goal in eleven. A 2-2 draw at Gillingham sent the game to a replay, and another 2-2 draw sent that replay into extra time. Six minutes into the extra half-hour, Gillingham's keeper scored an own goal to give Brackley the lead, and then James Armson completed his hat trick to put the home side up, 4-2. Gillingham pulled one back, but couldn't find a fourth.

Magic™! Magic™ everywhere!

The second round proper

No new teams joined at this stage, so the 40 winners from the previous round played off among themselves. Curzon Ashton, the slayers of Westfields, were rewarded with a televised tie against AFC Wimbledon, and looked set for a major upset when they took a three-goal lead just after the hour. However, as 80 minutes ticked around, the Dons scored three goals in three minutes to level the game, then grabbed a winner in the fourth minute of injury time. Magic™ is a capricious thing.

They weren't the only non-league sides rudely put in their place. Macclesfield Town shipped three unanswered goals to Oxford United in a replay, Woking lost to Accrington Stanley by the same scoreline, Solihull Moors were thumped 6-2 by Luton Town, and though Braintree Town scored twice against Millwall, they let in five at the other end. And in the only all-non-league tie of the round, Eastleigh of the National League drew 3-3 with FC Halifax Town, from one division below, then won the replay 2-0.

But it wasn't all non-Magical™. Lincoln City survived a late rally to beat Oldham Athletic 3-2, and Sutton United beat Cheltenham Town 2-1. Most remarkably, Stourbridge — from Tier 7, remember, the Northern Premier League — scored the only goal of the game against League One Northampton Town, overcoming a gap of four divisions and booking their place in ...

The third round proper

... which hasn't happened yet. But here's what you need to be keeping an eye on, from a non-league, Magic™-curious perspective.

Both Lincoln and Eastleigh have got tricky away games against championship opposition, Ipswich Town F.C. and Brentford F.C., respectively. Barrow are at home, but their opponents, League One side, Rochdale, are in good form. Sutton have also got League One opposition at home, AFC Wimbledon, so will need to keep an eye out for those three-goal leads.

As for Stourbridge, they're away at Wycombe Wanderers of League Two. In theory, that's an easier game than Northampton, so they should stroll through to the fourth round ... wait, what do you mean, that's not how it works?

Elsewhere, top-flight teams tend to rotate a little in the cups these days, which means that away games against half-decent opposition can become potentially tricky. With that in mind, we note that Bournemouth are visiting Millwall (ninth in League One), Southampton go to Norwich (ninth in the Championship), and Crystal Palace, in desperate need of a win, have to visit Bolton (second in League One). And we've also got at least one League Two team guaranteed to make it through, as Accrington Stanley host Luton Town.

Naturally, none of theses games are on television, at least not in the UK. Presumably West Ham against Manchester City will be just as Magical™.

FA Cup third round schedule (all times ET):

Friday

West Ham United vs. Manchester City — 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1

Saturday

Manchester United vs. Reading — 10 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Sutton United vs. AFC Wimbledon — 10 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Barrow vs. Rochdale — 10 a.m., Fox Sports 2
Accrington Stanley vs. Luton Town — 10 a.m.
Birmingham City vs. Newcastle United — 10 a.m.
Blackpool vs. Barnsley — 10 a.m.
Bolton Wanderers vs. Crystal Palace — 10 a.m.
Brentford vs. Eastleigh — 10 a.m.
Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Milton Keynes Dons — 10 a.m.
Bristol City vs. Fleetwood Town — 10 a.m.
Everton vs. Leicester City — 10 a.m.
Huddersfield Town vs. Port Vale — 10 a.m.
Hull City vs. Swansea City — 10 a.m.
Ipswich Town vs. Lincoln City — 10 a.m.
Millwall vs. AFC Bournemouth — 10 a.m.
Norwich City vs. Southampton — 10 a.m.
Queens Park Rangers vs. Blackburn Rovers — 10 a.m.
Rotherham United vs. Oxford United — 10 a.m.
Stoke City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 10 a.m.
Sunderland vs. Burnley — 10 a.m.
Watford vs. Burton Albion — 10 a.m.
West Bromwich Albion vs. Derby County — 10 a.m.
Wigan Athletic vs. Nottingham Forest — 10 a.m.
Wycombe Wanderers vs. Stourbridge — 10 a.m.
Preston North End vs. Arsenal — 12:30 p.m.

Sunday

Cardiff City vs. Fulham — 6:30 a.m.
Liverpool vs. Plymouth Argyle — 8:30 a.m., Fox Sports 1
Chelsea vs. Peterborough United — 10 a.m., Fox Sports 2
Middlesbrough vs. Sheffield Wednesday — 10 a.m.
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Aston Villa — 11 a.m., Fox Sports 1

Monday

Cambridge United vs. Leeds United — 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 2

For listings from other countries, check out Live Soccer TV.