Friday, April 13, 2007

5 FA Cup Semi-Finals You May Remember

Along with details of Brian Kilcline's favourite food (steak and chips of course!) and Greavesie's thoughts on the shortcomings of foreign players (most related to a suspicious dislike of the cold), any child sufficiently well-briefed on his Shoot! magazines knew from an early age that No-one Remembers Semi-Finals.

Au contraire, purveyors of footballing truths. In advance of this weekend's admittedly-very-probably-forgettable FA Cup semi-finals, here are some that remain in the memory....

1999 Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal; Replay: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal
One of those exceptions that proves the rule, in that most people forget that United's famous victory at Villa Park was a replay, the sides having drawn 0-0 at the same venue three days previously.

As a crucial staging post in United's treble-winning journey, and coming against their greatest rivals, it's unsurprising that this tumultuous evening casts a longer shadow than United's eventual victory over Newcastle in the final. A game that definitively had it all: Beckham's cracking opener, Bergkamp's deflected response, Keane's sending-off, Schmeichel's injury-time penalty save, and then, from Ryan Giggs, the goal that launched a thousand chest-waxes.

1997 Middlesbrough 3-3 Chesterfield; Replay: Middlesbrough 3-0 Chesterfield
By some distance the highlight of Chesterfield F.C.'s 140 year history, the Spireites were a controversially disallowed goal away from making the final, which would have made them the first third tier club to have reached the May showpiece.

23,000 Chesterfield fans saw their team race into a two goal lead over their Premiership opponents, who had Vladimir Kinder sent off. Fabrizio Ravanelli pulled one back for Boro, before Chesterfield's Jonathan Howard smashed a shot off the crossbar which bounced, seemingly, over the line. David Elleray did not concur, and, soon afterwards, Craig Hignett brought Middlesbrough level.

Gianluca Festa gave Boro the lead in extra-time, before Spireite stalwart Jamie Hewitt, in his eleventh season with the club, earned the Division 2 side a replay.

1991 Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 Arsenal
The 1990-91 semi-final provided the apex of Paul Gascoigne's early career. Indeed, despite his fleeting Euro 96 renaissance, some might argue that the exocet free-kick which soared past David Seaman in the fifth minute of this match was his finest moment.

Gazza hadn't actually started a game for 11 weeks prior to the semi-final against Arsenal, who were coasting to the title that season. His goal capped a year, post-Italia 90, which had seen his celebrity rise exponentially, in a manner now familiar in football, but which until then was more usually seen in the world of pop music.

A few short weeks later, in the FA Cup final, he would lunge into the vicious tackle on Gary Charles of Nottingham Forest that would ruin his knee ligaments and strike him down in the prime of his talent. Gary Lineker scored two further goals to send Spurs into the final, but it was the mercurial Geordie's contribution that is remembered.

1990 Crystal Palace 4-3 Liverpool
Liverpool at their height (and just before their fall), favourites for another double, against a side that they had defeated 9-0 at Anfield during the league campaign. It is easy to forget just what a sense of invincibility that Liverpool team enjoyed, and when Ian Rush put them ahead early on the likelihood of a Palace victory seemed remote.

However, the ferocity with which Steve Coppell's team emerged from the half-time break startled Liverpool, and Mark Bright (his more celebrated partner, Ian Wright, was injured for the game) soon equalised.

Gary O'Reilly headed them in front, as, for the first time, the elder statesmen of Liverpool began to show their age. However, when Steve McMahon equalised and John Barnes scored a penalty with seven minutes remaining it seemed that the country's eminent force had restored order.

Not so: Andy Gray's back post header sent the tie into extra-time, four minutes into which Alan Pardew got the winner for Palace.....

1990 Manchester United 3-3 Oldham Athletic; Replay: United 2-1 Oldham
...and if that wasn't enough excitement to cause post-Sunday lunch indigestion, United and Oldham played out another humdinger immediately afterwards.

Alex Ferguson's precarious grip on his job was almost loosened by Joe Royle's Second Division Oldham. Earl Barrett put the Latics ahead following one of Jim Leighton's last mistakes in a United jersey, before Neil Webb equalised and subsequently headed the First Division side ahead.

Ian Marshall instantly drew Oldham level with a volley, sending the tie into extra-time. Danny Wallace converted a Brian McClair through-ball, before Roger Palmer's close range finish earned Oldham a replay. United came through that, before winning after another replay in the final against Palace to provide their manager with the first trophy of a glittering decade.



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