Stockport County and Droylsden looking to progress as the FA Cup reaches final qualifying round

By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent

The Road to Wembley hits an important milestone this weekend as qualifying comes to an end, with Stockport County and Droylsden representing Greater Manchester.

Four rounds of qualifying and a preliminary round have all led to the pinnacle of many a non-league club’s season – one game away from the FA Cup First Round proper.

For clubs in the non-league pyramid, a lucky draw against a big club – even in the first round – can secure vital funds and promote them on a national stage.

Two clubs from Manchester are vying to join Bury, Oldham Athletic and Rochdale in the first round – Stockport County and Droylsden.

Of course, Stockport have reached this stage of the competition without kicking a ball.  As they are a Blue Square Premier team, they receive a bye to the last round of qualifying.

The Hatters face a tough trip to Southport tomorrow in their first attempt to qualify for the First Round.

Relegated last season, they lost their privilege as an automatic entrant to the competition.

If they were under any illusions how difficult it is to claw back League status, they will certainly know now as they lie 18th in the BSP table.

In contrast, Southport are flying high in the top 10, just a season after being reprieved of relegation following the demise of Rushden & Diamonds.

Ex Hatter James Smith could play against his old club after joining Southport in the summer.

Martin Gritton and Danny Rowe are set to miss out, with the Hatters leaving it until the last minute before making a decision on Sam Sheridan.

Droylsden, one division below County in the Blue Square North, have a rich pedigree in this competition in the past decade and have reached the second round twice in three years.

They host BSN rivals Blyth Spartans tomorrow after beating Stocksbridge Park Steels 4-1 in the last round.

Manager Dave Pace however has warned he is no longer satisfied with merely qualifying for the First Round.

The Bloods’ boss wants to get through to Round 3 and have the chance to play the big boys – including United and City.

However, they must first make their way past Blyth – who despite being in a lowly league position could cause an upset.

Should Stockport or Droylsden make it through, they could face the prospect of playing either of the Sheffield clubs, Charlton, Preston or Huddersfield.

Elsewhere in the qualifying round, BSP leaders Wrexham and third placed York clash in a game that will leave one of the non-league game’s biggest clubs dumped out of the competition.

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