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Top 5 FA Cup Semi-Finals of All Time

It’s FA Cup Semi-Final weekend and if the FA won’t do their utmost to restore the magic of the Cup, Pundit Arena will. 


While the ‘magic’ of the FA Cup seems to wane year on year (restored with the stroke of a pen if the FA allocated one of England’s Champions League spots to the winner, just a thought…), the competition has undoubtedly produced some classic encounters over the years. With FA Cup semi-finals weekend upon us, David Sheehan looks back at the some of the great semi-finals that certainly had a sprinkle of something special.


5. Man United 3 Oldham Athletic 3 AET (Maine Road, 1990)

Played at a time when Alex Ferguson was yet to win a trophy as Man United manager and in a season when Ferguson had endured months of speculation over his future, Oldham of the second division were expected to offer little resistance to Man United’s all star side. With a midfield of Ince and Robson and centre half pairing of Bruce and Pallister, Man United had a formidable spine to the team. Located on the outskirts of Manchester, Oldham was traditionally the dumping ground of young players that had failed to make the grade at Manchester or on Merseyside. The side was managed by former Everton and Manchester City legend, Joe Royle but entered the semi-final on the back of three straight league defeats.

Played in glorious April sunshine, Oldham upset the script with an opening goal after 5 minutes from a scrambled corner. Bryan Robson restored parity mid way through the first half, before Neil Webb put United ahead after 72 minutes. Oldham were not beaten however, and had an equaliser three minutes later. Danny Wallace had Utd in front again 2 minutes into extra time but a tiring Oldham were still not finished and struck a break away third with only seven minutes left in extra time. United’s goalkeeper, Les Sealey made an outstanding long range save in the dying moments and United hung on for a replay, which they won 2-1. United went on to lift the trophy that season and Ferguson stayed in a job. How history might have been different…


4. Middlesbrough 3 Chesterfield 3 AET (Old Trafford, 1997)

Chesterfield were aiming to become the first third tier side to reach an FA Cup Final. Captained by current Burnley manager, Sean Dyche (who sported a shaved head and ginger goatee even then), Chesterfield were expected to be easily brushed aside by a ‘Boro side that had embraced the new money of the Premier League era. Italian Fabrizio Ravanelli led the line for ‘Boro supported by little Brazilian Juninho in the No.10 role. Middlesbrough were managed by ex Man Utd legend Bryan Robson and had already reached the final of the League Cup that season.

The game turned on its head only 20 minutes in, when ‘Boro defender Festa was sent off for a second bookable offence. Chesterfield ceased the opportunity and were 2-0 up after an hour, the second a penalty from Dyche. ‘Boro were given a life line when Ravanelli scored in the 64th minute. Controversy rained moments later however, when Chesterfield had a shot come down off the underside of the crossbar and appear to bounce down over the line before coming back into play.

The linesman flagged for a goal but the referee over ruled and the score stayed at 2-1. Fate was cruel on Chesterfield as ‘Boro immediately went up the field and won a penalty after Dyche fouled Juninho. ‘Boro’s regular penalty taker Ravanelli backed away from the opportunity and it was left to Craig Hignett to equalise and take the game to extra time. Chesterfield were tiring badly and went behind 10 minutes into extra time, but in a moment of FA Cup magic, the only local player in Chesterfield’s side Jamie Hewitt made it 3-3 in the final minute of extra time. ‘Boro went on to win the replay comfortably 3-0. Had goal-line technology been in use in 1997, Chesterfield may well have become the first third tier side to reach Wembley, instead the wait goes on.


3. Spurs 3 – Arsenal 1 (Wembley 1991)

The first FA Cup semi-final played at Wembley, such was the demand for tickets for a north London derby semi-final clash. George Graham’s Arsenal led by Tony Adams were chasing a double. Spurs may not have realised it at the time but they were enjoying a golden era with a young Paul Gascoigne in midfield, Gary Lineker with the first wisps of grey hair up front and future England manager Terry Venables in the dugout.

Spurs sensationally took the led after only five minutes when Gascoigne smashed a direct free kick from 35 yards into the top right corner past David Seaman. BBC commentator Barry Davies immortalised the moment with the cry of “Oh I say!…schoolboy’s own stuff”. Lineker doubled Spurs’ advantage after 10 minutes with a scrambled effort – he was always deadly from six yards. Spurs sat back and invited Arsenal on but looked comfortable until Alan Smith made it 2-1 early in the second half with a looping header. Arsenal dominated and pushed for an equaliser but were caught on the break when Lineker outpaced Tony Adams and scored from an acute angle. Gascoigne celebrated with the Spurs fans at full time with a precursor to his dentist chair celebration, indicating that the drink would be flowing with a cupped hand gesture to his mouth.


2. Crystal Palace 4 – Liverpool 3 AET (Villa Park Park 1990)


A game that retrospectively can be looked upon as the beginning of the end of Liverpool’s long reign at the top of English football, Palace were massive underdogs going into the semi-final clash. Liverpool had equaled their record league winning margin of nine goals by beating Palace 9-0 the previous September and Liverpool were seemingly on the march to a second league and FA Cup double in five seasons under Kenny Dalglish. Palace were managed by former Man Utd player Steve Coppell, at 34, the youngest manager in the football league.

The early exchanges went according to the script and Ian Rush put Liverpool in front on 18 minutes, coolly slotting home past Nigel Martyn. Palace though had changed their tactics from the 9-0 drubbing and went man-to-man on Liverpool’s front three of Barnes, Rush and Beardsley. Palace had also increased the physicality and were determined to disrupt Liverpool. Rush went off shortly after scoring the first goal with a broken rib and the change unsettled Liverpool.

Palace emerged for the second half fired up and equalised straight from the kick off. The London side felt they had identified a weakness in Liverpool at set pieces and pumped the ball into Liverpool’s penalty area at every opportunity. A scrambled set piece saw Palace go in front with 20 minutes left but Liverpool rallied, first to make it 2-2 through Steve McMahon and then with only seven minutes left, going in front from a Barnes penalty. The Liverpool fans were singing You’ll Never Walk Alone as Palace lofted another high ball into the Liverpool box from a long range free with two minutes to go and had the ball in the net from the resulting scramble to force extra time. Current Palace boss Alan Pardew headed the winner from a corner in the second half of extra time to send Palace through to the final for the first time in the club’s history. Liverpool went on to win the league the following month but the defensive frailties exposed by Palace that afternoon were an indication of things to come.


1. Man United 2 – Arsenal 1 AET (Villa Park 1999)


The last ever FA Cup semi final replay took place at Villa Park on a Tuesday night three days after England’s top two sides had cancelled each other out in a dull 0-0 draw. Arsenal were double champions the previous season and were in a race for the league title with United. United themselves were already through to the European Cup semi-finals that season and in pursuit of an unprecedented treble. The Ferguson versus Wenger rivalry was at fever pitch.

The game began at a frantic pace and David Beckham put Utd ahead after 17 minutes with a beautifully curled shot from 25 yards across the face of England goalkeeper David Seaman. Neither side dominated and Arsenal equalised with 20 minutes remaining with a long range effort from Denis Bergkamp. Utd captain Roy Keane was sent off with 15 minutes remaining after fouling Marc Overmars to receive a second yellow card – not the only time in his career the Corkman would take it upon himself to kick the dutch winger.

The game seemed to be headed for extra time until Phil Neville tripped Ray Parlour in the box in stoppage time to give Bergkamp the chance to win it for Arsenal from the spot. The Dutchman’s penalty was dramatically saved by Peter Schmeichel to ensure extra time (Bergkamp was so affected by the miss that he never took a penalty again in his career). The match was settled by Ryan Giggs’ solo goal in the second period of extra time. Picking up the ball from a sloppy Patrick Vieira attempted pass inside his own half, Giggs ran at Arsenal’s defense, reminiscent of Maradona against England in the 1986 World Cup, weaving between Arsenal defenders before smashing the ball past Seaman at his near post. Giggs’ celebration of removing his jersey and swinging it over his head, revealing a Tom Selleck-like hairy chest has become an iconic moment in English football history. Utd would go on to win the treble and Alex Ferguson would become ‘Sir Alex’. Not for the first time, an FA Cup semi-final that hung in the balance could have made history oh so different…


Author: The PA Team

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