Toppo’s Top Tens – FA Cup Finals

It’s that time of year again when FA Cup Final weekend approaches and fans across the country look forward to the showpiece final of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition. The 130th FA Cup Final will be contested by Manchester City and Stoke City in front of over 90,000 spectators at Wembley and millions of people watching all over the globe.

The FA Cup has had its criticisms over the years for contributing to fixture congestion and seeing bigger clubs fielding weaker teams in earlier rounds but it is very much part of football heritage in this country and final day is one fans here and across the world look forward to. The cup has thrown up some unforgettable finals with goal fests, last minute strikes and the odd upset which the competition is famous for and this week the top ten picks out some of the greatest FA Cup Finals ever played.

10: Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool 1971

Two of the country’s best sides met at Wembley in 1971 in a match which really became exciting once it entered extra-time. A tactical battle was the story of normal time however Arsenal nearly won it as future Gunners boss George Graham hit the bar with a header 12 minutes from the end. Two minutes into extra-time Steve Heighway put Liverpool in front, beating ‘keeper Bob Wilson at his near post only for Eddie Kelly to level matters nine minutes later. The game looked as if it would head for a replay however on 111 minutes, Charlie George produced one of the FA Cup’s iconic goals, a 20-yard drive which beat Ray Clemence and won the Gunners the league and cup double.

9: Liverpool 3-1 Everton 1986

The 1986 FA Cup Final was an all-Merseyside affair as Liverpool and Everton descended upon Wembley for a derby game with the cup at stake. Liverpool pipped their city rivals to the league title just a few weeks before so Everton were seeking revenge and took a first half lead through Gary Lineker, pouncing on his first shot saved by Bruce Grobbelaar. However in the second half the Reds took control and equalised through Ian Rush. They added to their lead on 62 minutes as Craig Johnston poked the ball home from 8 yards, then Rush grabbed his second 20 minutes later, controlling Ronnie Whelan’s lobbed pass and firing into the bottom corner. The win saw Liverpool secure the double in Kenny Dalglish’s first season as player-manager.

8: Blackpool 4-3 Bolton Wanderers 1953

Sir Stanley Matthews is one of England’s all-time footballing greats and one of his finest moments came at the age of 38 in the FA Cup Final of 1953. Twice a runner up, it proved to be third time lucky for Matthews as his Blackpool team overcame a Bolton side with the goalscoring prowess of Nat Lofthouse up front. Lofthouse gave the Trotters the lead just two minutes in but Stan Mortensen levelled. Bobby Langton and Eric Bell then made it 3-1 to Bolton with 55 minutes gone.

Blackpool, in an attempt to recover, kept feeding the ball out wide to Matthews, whose wingplay proved too much for Bolton’s tiring full-backs and he set up Mortensen for a second goal 20 minutes from the end, then his hat-trick with two minutes to go. In stoppage-time Matthews continuted to torment Bolton and he set up winger Bill Perry to make it 4-3 and complete the most remarkable of turnarounds and deservedly it would be the Seasiders who got their hands on the trophy.

7: Liverpool 2-1 Arsenal 2001

The 2001 FA Cup Final was the first to be played outside England as the Millennium Stadium in Wales hosted the showpiece whilst Wembley was being re-developed and the first final in Cardiff was not short of drama. In the first half Gunners striker Thierry Henry broke away from the defence, rounded Sander Westerveld but saw his shot blocked on the line by Stephane Henchoz’s arm. Despite furious protests nothing was given and Henchoz got away with it.

With 19 minutes to go Arsenal finally broke the deadlock as Freddie Ljungberg rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home. Thierry Henry then saw a fine Westerveld save deny him the opportunity to extend Arsenal’s lead. Liverpool chased an equaliser and with seven minutes to go levelled, Michael Owen acrobatically pounced on a loose ball in the box and fired a volley into the net. Then with two minutes left, Patrik Berger hit a 40 yard pass upfield into Owen’s path, the England striker outpaced Lee Dixon, took a touch and on his weaker left foot, hit a shot across David Seaman low into the bottom corner to win the cup for Liverpool. A dramatic moment in a memorable season for Gerard Houllier’s team as they won the League Cup, FA Cup and a few days after this victory claimed the UEFA Cup.

6: Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United 1973

When Second Division Sunderland met top-flight Leeds United, challenging at the top of the league and one of the strongest teams in the country, few gave the Mackems a chance. The 1973 FA Cup Final was entertaining as the two teams looked for goals and it was Sunderland who took the lead, Leeds failing to clear a corner and the ball fell to Ian Porterfield, who controlled it and rifled it high into the net. The underdogs were in front but had to sustain mounting Leeds pressure. Midway through the second half came a famous moment as Sunderland goalkeeper Jim Montgomery, having a fine game thus far, pulled off an incredible double save. Trevor Cherry’s header was palmed away by Montgomery, it fell to Peter Lorimer who struck a powerful shot at goal from 10 yards but somehow Montgomery lept up diverted the ball onto the crossbar where it bounced away to safety. Sunderland held on for a 1-0 win becoming the first Second Division team to win the cup since 1931 as manager Bob Stokoe ran onto the pitch to celebrate with his players.

5: Arsenal 3-2 Manchester United 1979

Known as ‘the five-minute final’ when Arsenal and Manchester United met under the Twin Towers in 1979 the game came to life in the last five minutes with three dramatic goals. For 85 minutes Arsenal dominated and were 2-0 ahead with goals from Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton but United fought back, Gordon McQueen sweeping home a ball into the box for 2-1. Sammy McIlroy then beat two players and squeezed an effort under the goalkeeper and into the net with just two minutes to go. As the game looked to be going to extra-time Arsenal went upfield and Graham Rix hit a deep cross in from the left. Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Bailey missed it and it fell at the back post to Alan Sunderland, who knocked it over the line and won the cup for the Gunners in a breathtaking finish to the match.

4: Manchester United 3-3 Crystal Palace 1990

The latter stages of the 1990 FA Cup were all about goals. Crystal Palace overcame Liverpool in a 4-3 semi-final thriller whilst Manchester United defeated Oldham in a replay at the same stage following a 3-3 draw in their first meeting. The final was an open, action packed affair with both sides playing attacking football. Palace took the lead on 17 minutes through a Gary O’Reilly header but United captain bryan Robson levelled 35 minutes in. Mark Hughes then put United 2-1 up in the second half and as Palace chased an equaliser, manager Steve Coppell threw on striker Ian Wright, recently recovered from a broken leg which kept him out of their semi-final triumph.

Wright made an immediate impact as he beat two United defenders with a mazy run and slotted a composed finish into the net past Jim Leighton. Mike Phelan hit the bar for United but the scores remained 2-2 as the game entered extra-time. Palace regained the lead in the first half as John Salako’s deep cross was met on the volley by Wright at the back post for his second goal of the match, but in the second period United equalised as Mark Hughes ran on to a through ball and poked it past the goalkeeper for 3-3. The game ended there and in a less-eventful replay United won 1-0 through Lee Martin’s goal, the first trophy Sir Alex Ferguson won as United boss.

3: Coventry City 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur 1987

The 1987 Cup Final was a classic. Coventry City were in their first ever final while Tottenham Hotspur were looking for a record eighth cup triumph and had never lost an FA Cup Final. Coventry were underdogs and fell behind in the second minute as footballer of the year Clive Allen notched his 49th goal of an incredible season. Coventry fought back and equalised through winger Dave Bennett but Gary Mabbutt restored Tottenham’s lead five minutes before half time. 

Both teams were playing open attacking football and Coventry equalised through a fine goal. Bennett carried the ball down the right and crossed for Keith Houchen to score with a superbly executed diving header – a famous cup final goal. At 2-2 the game entered extra time and Coventry went ahead, Lloyd McGrath played the ball into the box from the right where it deflected off Gary Mabbutt’s outstretched leg and looped over Ray Clemence in the Tottenham goal. Coventry held out to win their first ever trophy amid jubilant celebrations from the team and Sky Blue supporters around Wembley.

2: Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Manchester City 1981

The last time Manchester City were in the cup final they and Tottenham Hotspur delivered a memorable occasion, fittingly as it was the 100th final in the cup’s history. The first match at Wembley ended 1-1 and went to a replay under the Twin Towers a few days later. The game ebbed and flowed from start to finish and in the first 10 minutes Ricardo Villa and Steve McKenzie’s outstanding volley made the score 1-1. In the second half Kevin Reeves scored with a penalty to put City 2-1 up but with 20 minutes to go Tottenham levelled, Garth Crooks poking the ball past Joe Corrigan to score. 

With 15 minutes to go Ricky Villa would settle matters with a goal that is replayed year upon year on cup final day. Collecting the ball 25 yards from goal Villa was faced with blue shirts but the Argentine, substituted in the first game, jinked past one defender, then another and the first defender once more before slotting the ball into the net as the keeper came out of goal. Villa ran off in celebration and was mobbed by team mates as Spurs went on to win an entertaining final.


1: Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United (Liverpool win 4-3 on penalties) 2006

Liverpool pulled off a dramatic win in the first Millennium Stadium final and they won in even more dramatic circumstances in the last final to be played at the venue in May 2006. West Ham United were back in the Premier League and Alan Pardew, who’d played in Palace’s defeat to Manchester United 1990, led the Hammers to a first cup final since 1980.

Pardew’s men took the lead early on as from a Lionel Scaloni cross, Jamie Carragher put one through his own net in comical fashion, his attempted backheel clearance bouncing off his standing foot and rolling in the net as he fell to the floor. West Ham made it 2-0 on 28 minutes, Pepe Reina failed to hold onto Matthew Etherington’s shot and Dean Ashton pounced to knock the ball in under the goalkeeper and a shock was on the cards. Four minutes later though Liverpool pulled a goal back, Djibril Cisse volleying in Steven Gerrard’s lofted ball forward from 18 yards out.

Ten minutes after half time Gerrard netted the equaliser. A knockdown from Peter Crouch bounced in the area and Gerrard ran onto it, volleying the ball high into the top corner in front of the Liverpool fans. The game was pulsating and on 64 minutes West Ham went back in front as a speculative cross from Paul Konchesky sailed over everyone in the penalty area, including the goalkeeper and into the far side of the net. As the clock ticked down West Ham looked as if they may hold on but as both sets of players began falling to the floor with cramp time was added on and in injury time the Hammers defence cleared the ball out of the box and it bounced toward Steven Gerrard. He ran onto the ball and from 30 yards out unleashed an unstoppable dipping volley which beat Shaka Hislop and sent the game into extra-time.

In the extra period players continued to suffer with cramp although with minutes left West Ham went agonisingly close, Marlon Harewood miscuing a shot wide from close range. The match went to penalties with Liverpool scoring three and West Ham missing three of their four, including Pepe Reina saving Anton Ferdinand’s effort to clinch victory. After their 3-3 draw and penalty shootout win over AC Milan in the Champions League final a year previously, Liverpool did it again in a fabulous match for the neutrals.

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