Football: Cardiff face test from old cup foes

THE LAST time Cardiff City met Hednesford Town, the occasion was a cup final and the venue was a national stadium. Back in 1992 English teams were allowed to enter the Welsh Cup, and the Pitmen from Staffordshire dug deep to reach the final at Cardiff Arms Park, where they were beaten 1-0 by the Bluebirds in front of a crowd of 12,000.

Today the two teams meet again, in the second round of the FA Cup, at the rather more humble venue of Ninian Park. Hednesford have come a long way since 1992, when they were members of the Southern League Midland Division. Now well established in the Conference, they have beaten three Nationwide League clubs in the last two seasons in the cup. Cardiff have been warned.

This term Hednesford are unbeaten in 11 games since mid-September, but they know they face a tough task at the home of the Third Division leaders. "It will be very difficult at Cardiff," John Baldwin, the manager of the Pitmen, said. "They are an excellent side."

Another Conference club, Yeovil Town, meet Northampton Town today at Huish Park. This season marks the 50th anniversary of the Somerset side's most famous FA Cup giant-killing act. In 1948-49 they took on Sunderland in the fourth round.

Inspired by their wily player-manager, Alec Stock, Yeovil won 2-1 at their old Huish ground to inspire, according to the Western Gazette, "jubilant scenes reminiscent of VE Day". There will be another party if the Cobblers are caught out today.

Two former Conference champions meet at Sincil Bank, where Lincoln City, who edged past Cheltenham Town at the first stage, take on Stevenage Borough, who have reached the third and then the fourth round in the last two seasons.

Paul Fairclough, the Stevenage manager, is discovering the downside of such success. "I've created a monster here," he said this week. "Expectations are far too high, and the tolerance level among supporters is often unacceptable."

Preston North End, who entertain Walsall, have scored plenty of goals in their distinguished FA Cup history. They hold the record for the tournament's biggest win: 26-0 against Hyde in 1887-88. Almost a century later, no longer a member of the footballing elite, North End crashed 7-3 in a first- round tie at Walsall in 1985. They fared little better four years ago, losing 4-0 to the Saddlers in a second-round replay. Revenge, as well as a third-round place, will be the target at Deepdale today.

Swansea City have twice reached the semi-finals of the Cup, in 1926 (when they were beaten by Bolton) and 1964, when Preston took the honours. On each occasion they overcame Stoke City on their way to the last four - and today the two sides meet again at the Vetch Field. No side from what is now the Third Division have ever reached the semis, but Swansea can dream. That is what the FA Cup is all about.