Cambridge United’s Emirates FA Cup adventure gets started this weekend as Southern League Premier Division South outfit Bracknell Town are welcomed to the Abbey Stadium…
The U’s are out to extend their unbeaten run to four matches and avoid a potential banana skin by surpassing the opening stage of the competition for a third consecutive season and dispatching an ambitious Robins side, who ply their trade four divisions below and are hoping to make the second round for the first time in their history.
How to Watch
Tickets are still available for Saturday’s cup tie, which kicks off at 3pm. At a reduced rate, a seat in the Main Stand is £15 for Adults and £12 for Concessions, whilst terracing in the Newmarket Road End or North Habbin is priced at £12/£10 Concessions – for either, Under 18s are priced at £5.
Please note, Season Tickets are not valid for FA Cup fixtures. Holders can secure their place online at cufctickets.com, over the phone by calling 01223 566500 (option 1) or by visiting the Abbey Stadium Ticket Office on the day.
U’s fans who can’t make it to CB5 can listen to full live match commentary of the game via BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The match is NOT available for streaming on iFollow.
Formed in 1896 as Old Bracknell Wanderers, the Berkshire outfit started out in the Ascot & District League and enjoyed a fruitful spell in the Spartan League during the early 1980s. Recent history has been excellent, with an ascension up the divisions, a run to the FA Vase quarter-finals in 2018 and promotion to their current level as recently as 2021/22. An almost formidable season last time out saw the Robins enjoy cup exploits – which included their best-ever FA Trophy showing of the last 16 – but Premier Division South agony as they came within one victory from promotion to the National League South after succumbing to Truro City 3-2 in the play-off final. The only way looks to be up for Town, who continue to make a name for themselves.
Under the tutelage of joint-managers Jamie McClurg and Carl Withers, who have been at the helm since September 2022 following a superb spell with Binfield FC, Bracknell have a vast range of attacking talent and pose a threat to anyone on their day. Simon Grant should don the sticks, with a defense ahead of him which includes Gabriel George, Elliot Legg and George Knight. In the middle of the park, Tom Jackson and Joe Grant pull the strings and make things happen, whilst Jordan Esprit is a prolific forward for the level and former Dulwich Hamlet man Nana Owusu is the spark down the flanks.
Now they’ve flexed their underdog credentials, the Robins’ sole task is to rise to the second tier of non-league for the first time in their history. Their quest thus far has been steady, with six wins, six defeats and one draw assigning them in 10th position with a seven-point gap from the play-offs. They approach this encounter in fine fettle having won five of their previous six, scoring ten in their last three. Fresh following an 11-day break, the visiting faithful will be buoyant and are looking up to a mighty shock.
Bracknell Town: WWWLW
The U’s are hoping to have now turned the screw after they stretched their unbeaten run by gaining a point at Wycombe Wanderers on Halloween evening.
In a game which certainly could have gone either way, a share of the spoils was a fair result for the visitors, who conjured up some excellent chances and all in all kept a powerful and creative Chairboys side at bay.
Examining the stalemate, Mark Bonner stated: “The resilience of the team tonight was brilliant… We’re delighted with a point, we know how hard we’ve worked and how well we’ve played to get it, but there’s also a dye of frustration that the game was there for us to win.”
The defensive grit ensured an eight clean sheet from their opening 16 league games, a feat that is superior to every other side in the 92. Also into the top half, the U’s are in a positive place as they turn their attention to tournament football.
Bonner on the FA Cup: “It’s a competition we love and we’ve had some brilliant times in, so we certainly want to try and experience that again, but you never take any game for granted… Upsets happen in cup competitions, it’s why we can beat Newcastle. That should never happen, but it does, it’s just what happens every year in this competition in every round.”
Bonner on Bracknell: “They’ve had a decent start, certainly in the cup competitions they’ve been very good. They’ve got good pace in wide positions, cross the ball well, can play and build from deep in the pitch and have shown good counter-attacking threat.”
Bonner on team selection: “We will be a strong team certainly and we want to win the game and progress in the competition. We certainly won’t be messing about with it.”
Late checks will be made on Sullay Kaikai and Gassan Ahadme, who are both currently carrying knocks. The Head Coach also revealed that the latter and fellow loanee John-Kymani Gordon have been granted permission from their parent clubs to feature.
FA Cup Folklore
United hold special memories in this competition, with their greatest performance coming in 1990 and 1991 as they embarked on a run to the quarter-finals in successive seasons. In recent times, they last lost at the first hurdle in 2020/21 as Shrewsbury Town left the Abbey with a 0-2 win, but memories of the euphoric run the following year are still fresh – with United overcoming Northampton Town, Exeter City and the richest team in the world, Newcastle United, in their own back yard before Luton Town proved too strong in the fourth round. The task now is to go one better than last time out, where a valiant Curzon Ashton forced penalties in the replay, before League Two Grimsby Town secured victory at the death on their way to a meteoric adventure.
As for Bracknell, it’s now back-to-back placings in the first round proper after a mazy run last season saw them overcome Harrow Borough, Chesham United, Yate Town and Banbury United en route to bowing out at home to Ipswich Town in front of the cameras and a bumper 1,950 – promptly winning them the ‘FA Cup Run of the Year’ award. Prior to that, they had reached this stage just once before, back in 2000/01 where they were eventually tamed by Lincoln City.
The Robins will hope it’s a case of third time luck, with their journey beginning back in early September when they beat Harrow again, saw off Havant & Waterlooville 2-1, Poole Town 3-1 and then pulled off a last-gasp cupset against Dagenham & Redbridge in the fourth qualifying round to secure the plum tie.
Referee: Richie Watkins
Assistant Referee: Mark Jones
Assistant Referee: Andrew Hickman
Fourth Official: Matthew Jackson