Are the cups ‘our world’ now this season, as Stockport County come to town?
There's a lot more to Stockport than that old football refrain 'you're just a small town in Manchester.' Once upon a time they were associated with Argentina - though more to do with the colour of their shirts than performances on the pitch. Even to this day, minus a short period in the midst of the Falklands War, they play in blue and white. Their away kits bear a very striking resemblance to the Argentinean home kit but we'll be hoping that where's the similarity ends and that things don't get too ‘Messi’ for us at The Valley this coming Saturday afternoon.
In this season that has borne a lot of fruit in our cup fortunes, they are also a possible second round banana skin, blocking our path to hopes of a more glamorous tie in the later rounds. Even if the World Cup might feel like the only show in town right now, all of us have a soft spot for the FA Cup, the world's oldest national competition.
Strangely enough our first ever meeting with Stockport County came in the FA Cup, in a rare time when we were the Cup holders. That was almost nine months to the day after our much-remembered 1-0 win over Burnley. Though always hard to carry on the form of Cup winners, we were comfortable 3-0 victors over Stockport at The Valley in January 1948 as we started out on our defence of the trophy that we haven't won since (though still one more than Palace and Millwall).
Stockport County's history has been very much that of a ‘yo-yo’ club in the congested world of football clubs spanning out from the Greater Manchester industrial area. They've gone through periods of anonymity, hope, administration and banishment to the lower reaches of the League pyramid. They fell as far as the Conference North but in recent times have begun a slow and steady climb back towards consolidation with a respectable ‘first season back’ position in the league, presently sitting mid-table in League Two.
They had risen as high as league one in the opening decade of the 2000s and some of us may remember our League double of 2009-10 when we beat them 2-1 up at Stockport and then 2-0 back at The Valley a couple of months later. Now though they are coming to face us as last season's National League champions and have some decent players in their ranks. Some of those have been picked up from rival clubs in the non-league such as the summer's double swoop for Torquay United's influential Welsh duo of Joe Lewis and Connor Lemonheigh-Evans.
This is very much the kind of game in which we might see such players featuring. It's hard to predict who's going to play and who's not in Cup games. Since we now seem to be caught up in that congested mid-table section of the League, just one level above Stockport, it'd be good to think that we'd try to put together a decent cup run. A glamour tie in round three would certainly be a great confidence booster ahead of the January transfer window when we really do need a few stand-out signings to push back towards the play-offs. The jury seems to be out in some quarters as regards Ben Garner's public pronouncements about transfers but he has shown himself to be a capable manager with our cup performances and he believes he could do much more with a better budget.
Hopefully then we'll get through this one against the ‘Argentina of the North’ and get a more glamorous tie against one of their bigger neighbours in 2023. That'll go well with a League Cup win over Brighton, another team in blue ‘n' white. We can just hope it's not us ‘feeling the blues’ after this pair of vital cup games in the next month.