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'The magic of the FA Cup is very much alive': Fairytale continues as sixth tier Maidstone oust Ipswich

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27th January, 2024
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Maidstone United manager George Elokobi could sum up the moment in only one way.

“The magic of the FA Cup,” Elokobi said, “is very much alive.”

His little team from the sixth-tier of English soccer had just pulled off one of the most unlikely upsets the famous 153-year-old competition had seen in years.

Maidstone, of the National League South, became the lowest-ranked team to reach the fifth round – the last-16 – since 1978 by beating second-division Championship side Ipswich 2-1 on Saturday. 

And Elokobi’s team did it on the road, in a game where Ipswich had 38 shots at goal compared to their two.

The difference was Maidstone converted both of those efforts into goals, first when Lamar Reynolds scored with a cheeky lob as he ran clear through on goal in the 43rd minute, and then when Sam Corne restored the visitors’ lead in the 66th after Jeremy Sarmiento had equalised for Ipswich.

And so the storied history of the FA Cup, first played in 1871 and the oldest soccer tournament in the world, has another David v Goliath upset.

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Ipswich, second in the second-tier Championship and pushing for promotion to the Premier League, sit 98 places above Maidstone in the English soccer pyramid. They’re the first team from outside the top five leagues to make the fifth round of the Cup since Blyth Spartans in 1978.

The hosts, without their Australian duo of Cam Burgess, on Asian Cup duty, and the recently-injured Massimo Luongo, dominated the game but hit the woodwork twice in the first half and were repelled by Maidstone’s Brazilian goalkeeper Lucas Covolan, who pulled off a string of saves in the final 20 minutes.

The 32-year-old Covolan played for Brazil Under-20s but has spent the bulk of his senior career at semi-professional teams, and has spoken about battling depression in recent years.

“It means so much, because my career the last few years, it wasn’t very good,” Covolan told the BBC. “Now, all the bad parts of the career just comes in my head, and then we just produce this. Unreal.”

It will mean a lot to Maidstone, too, a town of about 180,000 people in Kent, south-east of London.

More than 4400 fans made the trip to Ipswich — more than can fit into the team’s home stadium — and they were all still celebrating in the stands long after the final whistle.

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Now they’ll get to see their team play in the FA Cup fifth round for the first time, and can dream about going up against one of the Premier League giants in the next round after Sunday’s fifth-round draw.

“What we have achieved is something unbelievable,” Covolan said. “To be in the last 16 teams in England, it’s brilliant. We kept fighting until the end, bodies on the line and everything.”

In other fourth-round action on Saturday, Luton substitute Cauley Woodrow scored the winner deep into added time to beat Everton 2-1 at Goodison Park.

In another all-Premier League tie Joao Pedro scored a hat-trick as Brighton got the better of Sheffield United in a 5-2 win at Bramall Lane, while Leeds let Championship rivals Plymouth off the hook in a 1-1 draw at Elland Road.

Leicester turned on the style in the second half to beat Birmingham 3-0 with goals from Jamie Vardy, Yunus Akgun and Dennis Praet.

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