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As The Underdogs Fade Away, Can Non-League Chorley Yield One More Moment Of FA Cup Magic?

The FA Cup is one of football's most prominent cup competitions due to the tournament's proclivity for surprise upsets and underdog stories. Despite the absence of fan support, this season's FA Cup has still seen its share of upsets.

Four non-league clubs reached the FA Cup Third Round, but only one progressed to the next step in the competition 

National League side Boreham Wood fell 2-0 to Millwall, West Ham was lucky to avoid defeat in a muddy match thanks to an 83rd-minute Craig Dawson goal against Stockport County, while eighth-tier minnows Marine were unable to perform an FA Cup miracle against Tottenham, falling 5-0 to the Premier League club.

That left Chorley of the National League North as the only non-league side left in the competition. The Lancashire club is the first sixth-tier side to reach the FA Cup Fourth Round since Havant & Waterlooville in 2007-08, and it's the furthest cup run ever for the Magpies.

With nearly half of the remaining clubs representing the Premier League, the draw for the National League North's ninth-place team was always going to be difficult. The Magpies did manage to receive a home tie, but will have to battle Wolves of the Premier League on Friday, January 22.

The two sides have faced off in this competition once before, with sixth-tier Chorley pulling a shocking FA Cup First Round upset over then fourth-tier Wolves, a struggling club that had been in the First Division just three seasons earlier.

In the decades since, Wolves has experienced three separate stints in the Premier League, while Chorley has yet to change its non-league status.

The gap between the two teams now stands at five divisions and 111 league places, but can Chorley pull another FA Cup shock over Wolves?

The Magpies have already defeated three Football League sides in the FA Cup Proper. A first round comeback against League One stragglers Wigan was followed by an even more impressive 2-1 win over Peterborough United, a League One side with promotion hopes.

In the third round, Chorley triumphed over second-tier Derby County, albeit against a Rams team that was forced to field a team made entirely of U-23 players due to a first team COVID-19 outbreak.

Chorley's attack has been its strength so far in the cup. Striker Connor Hall has goals in all three FA Cup Proper matches and attacking partner Harry Cardwell has meaningful experience for Grimsby Town at the League Two level. Attacking midfielder Mike Calveley also has two goals and two assists in the cup.

Center back and captain Scott Leather is the backbone of the side. Leather is in his fifth season as a regular for the Magpies and even played two matches in the Championship for Preston North End back in 2010-11, the highest level of experience for any of the Magpie players

Manager Jaime Vermiglio, an elementary school principal, has used different formations and lineups in each of the team's three FA Cup ties so far, but one thing has been consistent for the Magpies: set piece and crossing opportunities. Of Chorley's seven cup goals, three have come from set pieces, and two others came on deliveries from wide areas.

This area also happens to be a weakness for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Nuno Espírito Santo's side has allowed nine set piece goals this season, second most in the Premier League, versus just 11 goals from open play.

Wolves will also have to contend with difficult playing conditions. Chorley's pitch has been waterlogged all week and there is the chance for more precipitation at kickoff. Temperatures will also be near freezing, meaning a chilly Friday night for the West Midlands side.

Despite the problematic conditions at Victory Park, Chorley's groundskeeping crew has recent experience with the elements of Northern England . A snowstorm prior to Chorley's third round tie against Derby forced the club's groundman to sleep on the pitch to prevent overnight freezing.

"We are going to find a pitch which is not in the best condition," Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo said. "We know an effort has been made to preserve the pitch but with the weather conditions it will be very difficult to play football on. We have to adapt."

An unfriendly pitch allowed non-league Stockport County to nearly upset West Ham in a round three mud-bath. A heavy pitch could also help Chorley slow down some of Wolves' prominent Portuguese attacking players, as well as swift Spanish winger Adama Traoré.

Wolves is also experiencing a downturn in form, with just one win in its last seven matches.

Don't wake up Friday expecting an upset, but the recipe is there for Chorley to execute an FA Cup giant-killing. 

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