Last weekend saw the semi-finals of the FA Cup played at Wembley. After two very different kind of games it will be Manchester City and Stoke City to meet in the showpiece next month. Both semi-finals were memorable with a Manchester Derby in one, won by Yaya Toure’s goal and the other a 5-0 drubbing by Stoke over Bolton Wanderers.
Semi-final weekend is a big part of the football calendar every year, with the final four teams meeting on neutral ground for the opportunity to make the final. Like the final itself, no team wants to lose a semi-final which can lead to rather cagey affairs but there are occasions where sides go for it and serve up a classic.
The FA Cup is synonymous with memorable matches throughout its illustrious history and the semi-final stages are no different, sometimes being more entertaining than the finals themselves. This week I take a look back at some of the best last 4 encounters to have been played in the competition, with plenty of goals, great rivalries and the odd customary FA Cup upset for good measure.
10: Everton v Tottenham Hotspur 1995
The 1994/95 season was Joe Royle’s first full campaign in charge of Everton and he led the Toffees to the semi-finals of the FA Cup. Tottenham Hotspur awaited with their ‘famous five’ attackforce of Nick Barmby, Darren Anderton, Ilie Dumitrescu, Teddy Sheringham and Jurgen Klinsmann – Spurs the favourites ahead of the match at Elland Road. Everton booked their place at Wembley in style with a 4-1 win and great attacking play of their own, including two goals from Nigerian Daniel Amokachi, who’d come on as a substitute in the second half. Everton went on to win the trophy, defeating Manchester United 1-0 in the final. Here’s their cup song of that year, including the goals from their semi-final rout.
9: Brighton and Hove Albion v Sheffield Wednesday 1983
Whilst they were struggling to remain in the top flight in 1983, Brighton embarked on a memorable cup run which saw them go all the way to Wembley. Their semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury was their first, the Seagulls in fact had never made it past the 5th round prior to this season. Jack Charlton’s Wednesday were the fancied team to win but Brighton won 2-1 and the best moment in the match came courtesy of Jimmy Case’s quite brilliant free-kick. 35 yards from goal Case hit the ball with great swerve and it flew into the net off the bar. Brighton did go down that season despite their final appearance, where they lost 4-0 to Manchester United after a replay.
8: Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United 1993
The draw for the 1993 semi-finals paired the two great Sheffield rivals against eachother and they would play out a Steel City derby at Wembley for a place in the final. Veteran United forward Alan Cork pledged not to shave until the Blades were knocked out of the FA Cup so by the time his team reached the semi-final he had Epping Forest growing round his chin. Cork scored in the game too, equalising Chris Waddle’s excellent free-kick which gave Wednesday the lead in the first half. Mark Bright made it 2-1 to The Owls in the second half and that’s how it stayed, Wednesday through to face Arsenal in the showpiece. You can see Cork’s glorious greying beard after his goal.
7: Arsenal v Liverpool 1980
The longest FA Cup semi-final in history being played out over 420 minutes of football after the sides met four times due to three replays. The first at Hillsborough ended 0-0 and a late Arsenal equaliser meant the second at Villa Park finished 1-1. The second replay was also 1-1 after goals from Alan Sunderland and Kenny Dalglish so a third replay and a fourth match was needed to settle the tie. The match was the first and only semi-final to be staged at Coventry City’s Highfield Road ground and the Gunners prevailed thanks to Brian Talbot’s goal. The mere notion of three replays would leave the modern day manager fuming over fixture congestion, back in 1980 they just got on with it.
6: Manchester United v Oldham Athletic 1990
The 1990 FA Cup was Sir Alex Ferguson’s first trophy at Manchester United but before their final triumph they survived a major scare in the semi-final against Oldham. Joe Royle’s Latics were the neutral’s favourite as they were a good footballing side chasing promotion from the Second Division, had reached the League Cup final and were looking for a return to Wembley in the FA Cup. Joe Royle’s team took the lead at Maine Road through Earl Barrett before Bryan Robson levelled matters. Neil Webb put United 2-1 up then Ian Marshall sent the game into extra-time. Danny Wallace made it 3-2 to United but yet again Oldham came back and equalised with Marshall’s second goal to force a replay, which they ended up losing 3-0.
5: Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal 1991
The first FA Cup semi-final to be played at Wembley was in 1991 and a North London Derby between two great rivals, Spurs and Arsenal. Arsenal were on for the double, 20 years after doing it for the first time but Spurs were in financial trouble and FA Cup success plus the rewards it would bring was huge for the club. The game saw one of the great goals scored under the Twin Towers as Paul Gascoigne bent a powerful 35 yard free-kick past David Seaman in the Arsenal goal. Gascoigne also set up a goal for Gary Lineker as Tottenham ran out 3-1 winners. See ‘Gazza’s’ cracking strike below.
4: Coventry City v Leeds United 1987
The 1987 FA Cup was Coventry City’s first and only major cup triumph. In reaching the final the Sky Blues overcame Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday away then Leeds United in an epic semi-final. Coventry were favourites against second division Leeds but it was a tight affair. David Rennie gave Leeds the lead before Micky Ginn equalised 20 minutes from the end. Gynn then set up Keith Houchen to put Coventry 2-1 up but Keith Edwards made it 2-2 and took the game into extra-time. Coventry went on to win this entertaining match 3-2 thanks to a goal from Dave Bennett and they were into their first FA Cup Final.
3: Crystal Palace v Liverpool 1990
The semi-finals of the FA Cup in 1990 were exciting to say the least. On the same day as Manchester United and Oldham played out their 3-3 draw, Crystal Palace and Liverpool topped it with this classic at Villa Park. Steve Coppell’s Palace were hammered 9-0 at Anfield by Liverpool earlier in the season and the smart money was on Kenny Dalglish’s team to reach the final, or so it seemed. Despite going behind twice to the champions-elect, The Eagles put in an outstanding performance.
Liverpool led 1-0 at half-time through a trademark Ian Rush strike but straight from the kick off in the second half, Palace equalised through Mark Bright after a great run down the right by John Pemberton then Gary O’Reilly put the underdogs 2-1 up. With eight minutes to go Liverpool levelled, Steve McMahon thumping a shot into the top corner following a well-worked free-kick. A minute later Liverpool were in front, John Barnes netting a penalty awarded after Pemberton felled Steve Staunton in the box. Palace bombarded the Liverpool defence with set pieces throughout the match and they made it 3-3 with just minutes to go, Andy Gray heading home. They even could have won it in injury time as Andy Thorn headed against the bar. In extra-time Palace did go back in front after Thorn flicked on a Gray corner at the near post and Alan Pardew headed it beyond Bruce Grobbelaar for 4-3. That’s how it stayed and to the joy of Palace fans, the South London team were in the cup final.
2: Middlesbrough v Chesterfield 1997
In 1997 a small club from the third tier of the English leagues very nearly completed one of the greatest cup runs in the history of the FA Cup. Chesterfield from the Second Division reached the semi-finals where they faced Middlesbrough at Old Trafford, a team with expensive players such as Juninino, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli but who found themselves in a relegation dogfight in the Premier League.
In the first half ‘Boro were down to ten men, Vladimir Kinder sent off for two bookable offences. In the second period the underdogs took the lead after some good build-up play and a parried shot gave Andy Morris an easy tap in from three yards out. The Spirites’ continuted to take the game to their opponents two leagues above them and scored again after Morris was brought down in the box. Sean Dyche stepped up and smashed the penalty-kick down the middle of the goal for 2-0, incredible stuff. Ravanelli pulled a goal back for Middlesbrough but they could and probably should’ve been two goals down again soon after.
A young Kevin Davies burst away down the left byline, the ball came into the box and fell to Jonathan Howard, who found space eight yards from goal and hit a shot which hit the bar and bounced down over the line. Referee David Elleray did not give the goal which would’ve sent Chesterfield into the final and the scores remained 2-1. Elleray then gave Middlesbrough a penalty after Dyche brought down Juninho, Craig Hignett converted to equalise and take the match into extra time.
In extra-time Middlesbrough led for the first time in the game after Gianluca Festa rifled a loose ball into the roof of the net and it seemed as if finally the Premier League side made their class tell, despite being a man light. However there was one final twist as in the last minute of extra-time Jamie Hewitt’s looping header levelled things and secured Chesterfield a replay. However in the replay the dream would end for the Second Division side as they lost 3-0.
1: Manchester United v Arsenal 1999
The last ever FA Cup Semi-Final replay and probably the greatest. In 1999 the two met at Villa Park and after a dour 0-0 draw in the first game, played out an enthralling encounter four days later. United were aiming to win an unprecedented treble of the FA Cup, Premier League and the Champions League while Arsenal were in the hunt for a League and Cup double themselves.
The match was a joy for the neutral. David Beckham gave United the lead in the 17th minute with a curling long-range shot which flew past David Seaman and the Red Devils were looking strong throughout the first half. After the break Arsenal came back into the game and levelled when Dennis Bergkamp’s 25-yard strike deflected off Jaap Stam and beyond Peter Schmeichel. Nicolas Anelka then thought he’d scored but his effort was ruled out for offside and not long after United captain Roy Keane was sent off for a second bookable offence for a foul on Marc Overmars.
Arsenal made the most of the advantage and were handed a golden opportunity to reach the Wembley final when Phil Neville brought down Ray Parlour in the penalty area. Bergkamp stepped up but saw his spot-kick saved by Schmeichel diving to his left. United had a reprieve and the match entered extra-time.
Five minutes into the second period of extra-time Ryan Giggs, who’d come on as a substitute during the second half of normal time, picked up a loose pass from Patrick Vieira in his own half and set off upfield. Dribbling the ball for a good 50 yards and jinking past four Arsenal defenders, Giggs entered the penalty area and rifled an angled shot high into the net, a brilliant individual goal worthy of winning any game. Ten-man United held on to their 2-1 lead and were into the final. Incredible.