Football: Toughest challenge yet for Taunton

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The Independent Online
TAUNTON TOWN will have to do it the hard way if they are to reach the first round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1981.

The Screwfix Direct Western League club's reward for their thrilling 4-3 triumph over the Football Conference outfit, Kettering Town, is a trip to the Conference leaders, Cheltenham Town, in tomorrow's fourth qualifying round.

The last time the two teams met in the FA Cup, seven years ago, Taunton suffered an 8-0 thrashing. The Somerset side's manager, Russell Musker, is sure the result will be a lot closer this time. "We're going there to win," he said. "I want us to show how good the standard of Western League football is."

In last season's first round, Cheltenham needed a late winner from Clive Walker to see off Taunton's big Western League rivals, Tiverton Town, at Whaddon Road. The FA Umbro Trophy holders also needed a controversial goal to snatch a 1-0 win at another Screwfix side, Barnstaple Town, in the third qualifying round.

The man Cheltenham will fear tomorrow is the former Queen's Park Rangers forward Mark Loram, whose hat-trick against Kettering was completed by an injury-time winner. He is not Taunton's only source of goals: Ellis Laight and Tony Lynch have shared 31 league goals between them this term.

Another team hoping for an upset are Leatherhead, who entertain Rushden & Diamonds, currently second in the Conference. The Surrey side have not reached the first round of the Cup since 1980, at the end of a decade of famous achievements. In the 1970s they beat four League clubs - Colchester, Brighton, Northampton and Cambridge United - and, inspired by the dashing forward Chris Kelly, gave Leicester City a huge scare before going down 3-2 in a fourth-round tie in 1975.

Burton Albion's new player-manager, Nigel Clough, will get a down-to- earth taste of non-League football when he takes his side to Morpeth Town, in Northumberland.

There is sure to be one club making their debut in the first round: the winners of the encounter in Cornwall between St Blazey and Camberley Town. Other clubs seeking a place in the competition proper for the first time include Bedlington Terriers, Langney Sports and Ford United, from Romford.