Top 10 FA Cup Final Thrillers

Will Saturday's showpiece rival some of its predecessors for excitement?
With Premier League champions Chelsea taking on relegated Portsmouth at Wembley on Saturday, the climax of the world's oldest knock-out competition has all the elements of mis-match - and potential for upset - that have given the FA Cup its unique appeal since it began in 1872. Neutrals will be hoping for a compelling contest - and there have certainly been finals in the past that have had us on the edge of our seats. UK recalls the ten most thrilling...

(replay at Old Trafford aet; first match at Wembley ended 2-2 aet)

Leeds fans of a certain age still can't believe their club finished trophyless in 1970 - and in particular that they didn't win the FA Cup after outplaying Chelsea at Wembley in the first match. Don Revie's Leeds were England's best - though not best-loved - team of the late 1960s and early '70s. They'd won the League the previous season and were on course to retain their title and add both the European Cup and FA Cup in 1969-70, until nerves again got the better of them. By late March they'd played 52 games in all competitions and lost only three of them. But over the next five weeks they played ten more and won only once, finishing the season empty-handed. And their greatest despair was in the FA Cup.

Both teams were attempting to win the trophy for the first time, but despite the shocking state of the Wembley pitch - the legacy of an equestrian event - Leeds dominated with some outstanding football, winger Eddie Gray tormenting Chelsea right-back David Webb with his trickery. Yet although they fell behind twice, to goals from Jack Charlton and Mick Jones, the Blues clawed their way back into the game, through Peter Houseman and, four minutes from time, Ian Hutchinson, whose header forced extra-time and the first replay since 1912.

Delayed for 18 days so Leeds could play, and lose, a European Cup semi-final against Celtic, the re-match at Old Trafford was a pulsating affair that featured high skill and bruising aggression in equal measure. Ten minutes before half-time, Jones beat Peter Bonetti to give Leeds the advantage yet again, but a Charlie Cooke chip was met by Peter Osgood's spectacular diving header with 12 minutes to go, forcing another bout of extra-time. With 16 minutes left, Hutchinson wound himself up for a trademark long throw that Charlton could only touch on for Webb to bundle into the net with his head. Wembley's fall-guy thus became Old Trafford's hero, and Chelsea had won the Cup for the first time.


The incomparable Bobby Moore was presented with a trophy from Wembley's Royal Box in three consecutive summers, and if this first visit was less celebrated nationally than the one two years later with England, it was greeted with delight in London's East End as West Ham won the FA Cup for the first time in their history after a thrilling final.

Second Division Preston, relegated in 1961, had just missed out on promotion back to the top-flight, and despite the surprise inclusion of Howard Kendall - at 17 years 345 days the youngest FA Cup finalist up to that point - they matched the Hammers for skill and scored first after 10 minutes. Alex Dawson's shot was only parried and veteran Doug Holden, in his third final, forced the loose ball in. But the lead lasted no more than a minute, 18-year-old Johnny Sissons going on a fine run and beating Alan Kelly to become the youngest ever FA Cup final scorer.

Undaunted, and with Kendall prominent in midfield, Preston were controlling the game and restored their lead five minutes from the break, Dawson beating Ken Brown in the air to head home from a corner. Hammers' boss Ron Greenwood re-jigged his tactics at half-time, and it began to pay off. A Geoff Hurst effort rebounded off the underside of the Wembley bar (sound familiar?), hit Kelly and rolled slowly over the line with 38 minutes to go. The teams were tiring and the game was stretched as it entered injury time. There were 92 minutes on the clock as Hurst found Peter Brabrook on the right, and the winger's floated cross to the far post was headed back into the opposite corner of the net by Ronnie Boyce for a dramatic last-gasp winner.   


Gary O'Reilly heads past Jim Leighton

Alex Ferguson might well have been sacked after four uninspiring years at Old Trafford if United hadn't beaten Nottingham Forest in the third round; he survived and steered them, however unconvincingly, all the way to Wembley. Managed by United old-boy Steve Coppell, their opponents, struggling Crystal Palace, had lost by nine clear goals to Liverpool in the league earlier in the season, but sensationally beat the champions 4-3 in the semis to reach their first final.

At a newly all-seated Wembley, Gary O'Reilly headed the Eagles in front from a corner with United keeper Jim Leighton stranded in no-man's-land. United pulled themselves together to equalise ten minutes before the break when Bryan Robson headed home Brian McClair's cross, and just after the hour mark United took the lead, Mark Hughes burying a loose ball emphatically from eight yards. Andy Thorn cleared from McClair on the line and Robson sliced wide.

Coppell sent on substitute Ian Wright, recovering from a broken leg, and within three minutes the irrepressible striker had equalised, riding Mike Phelan's tackle and cutting inside Gary Pallister to find the far corner of Leighton's net from 12 yards. Robson headed against a post but at 2-2 on 90 minutes the game went to extra-time.

After just two minutes, John Salako beat Phelan on the left and his deep cross caught Leighton out of position. Wright outstretched Steve Bruce and volleyed home to put the Eagles ahead. Nigel Martyn tipped a Paul Ince effort over, Phelan's chip landed on the roof of the net, but with seven minutes left Danny Wallace set up Hughes who turned the ball expertly past the advancing Martyn to equalise. So a breathless, see-sawing encounter ended all-square. Unfortunatey the replay was a bad-tempered anti-climax which United won by the only goal, launching an unprecedented harvest of silverware for Ferguson.


Two months before England's greatest triumph, Wembley witnessed another classic as Everton became only the second side since the war to overturn a two-goal deficit to win the FA Cup. In doing so, an unassuming Cornishman earned immortality on Merseyside, his career attaining a brief but glorious high he was never able to emulate. In the days before substitutes, Everton manager Harry Catterick was not convinced his prolific centre-forward, Fred Pickering, would last 90 minutes at Wembley after a recent injury, so instead selected 21-year-old Mike Trebilcock, who'd joined from Plymouth Argyle five months earlier.

The dejected Pickering watched from the stands as Sheffield Wednesday defied their tag of underdogs with a bright opening spell in which Jim McCalliog swept a David Ford cross past keeper Gordon West via England full-back Ray Wilson. Twelve minutes into the second-half, the outstanding Johnny Fantham jinked past three Everton defenders and shot from 20 yards, the ball bouncing off West's chest into the path of Ford, who made it 2-0.

The Cup looked destined for Sheffield, but Trebilcock's claim to fame was about to arrive. First he volleyed Derek Temple's nod-down into the net from 12 yards on 58 minutes, then let fly with a half-volley from the edge of the box on 63 minutes as Sam Ellis only half-cleared. One over-excited Everton fan raced onto the turf, bowled Trebilcok over in his enthusiasm, and triggered a dogged pursuit by policemen whose helmets were left scattered on the turf. As one cop grabbed him from behind he simply shrugged off his jacket to reveal a natty pair of braces and carried on running - until reinforcements arrived and  brought him down with a rugby tackle.

After that interruption, fate intervened again, the normally assured Wednesday defender Gerry Young failing to trap a routine clearance that reached him on the edge of the centre-circle. As the ball squirmed under his boot, Temple raced onto it in a flash and set off on a clear run to goal before calmly beating Ron Springett with a low shot from 20 yards.


Michael Owen 'mugged' Arsenal at the death

The first final to be held at Cardiff's impressive Millennium Stadium was contested by Arsenal, runners-up to Manchester United in the League for the third consecutive season and beaten on penalties in the UEFA Cup final 12 months earlier; and Liverpool, who'd already won the League Cup and reached the final of the UEFA Cup.

The Gunners went into the game as slight favourites and quickly showed why, forcing Gerard Houllier's Reds onto the back-foot for virtually all of the first-half. They were denied a clear-cut penalty in the 17th minute when Thierry Henry rounded goalkeeper Sander Westerveld and hit a goal-bound shot which Stephane Henchoz, on the line, pushed away with his arm.

Arsenal, with Patrick Vieira dominating in midfield, continued to attack but chances came and went until Freddie Ljungberg deservedly put them ahead 18 minutes from time. Their own net had scarcely been threatened, and although the Gunners squandered further chances to put the game safe, they looked destined to lift the Cup. But on 83 minutes, they failed to deal with Gary McAllister's free-kick and the opportunistic Michael Owen swivelled to fire home an improbable Liverpool equaliser. Six minutes later, Owen completed a sensational comeback, outpacing Lee Dixon as he raced onto a shrewd Patrick Berger pass, then eluding Tony Adams and despatching an angled shot fractionally past the outstretched arm of David Seaman to nestle just inside the far post. Arsenal had been mugged at the death by Owen's excellence.  


Coventry were in the FA Cup final for the first time in their 104-year history. Tottenham, League Cup semi-finalists, had reached their eighth FA Cup final, having won all of the previous seven, and finished third in the League. In Clive
Allen, the double Footballer of the Year, they had far and away the country's leading scorer that season. Allen needed two more goals to reach the milestone of 50 in a single campaign.

But to the dismay of Spurs fans, the final would be the last game in the Lilywhite shirt for gifted midfielder Glenn Hoddle, who was heading for Monaco in the summer. Embarrassingly for Tottenham, Hoddle's shirt, like those of half
the team, was unadorned by sponsor Holsten's name due to a foul-up on the kit front that had somehow been overlooked. There would be further embarrassment in store.

Things started well enough for Spurs, Chris Waddle selling a dummy to two defenders on the right and crossing for Allen to power home a near-post header for goal No.49 with only two minutes gone. But Coventry re-grouped, and within seven minutes were level, Keith Houchen nodding a Greg Downs cross into space and Dave Bennett nipping in to score. Cyrille Regis had the ball in the net for the Sky Blues but it was ruled out for a mystery offence, and Trevor Peake intercepted a 30-yarder from Hoddle that was sailing towards an empty net. But five minutes before the break Hoddle's free-kick fell between City captain Brian Kilcline and Tottenham's Gary Mabbutt, rebounding off the latter into the net.

Yet Coventry and their fans were determined to enjoy themselves, and on 63 minutes they got back on terms again with the goal of the game. Houchen met Bennett's right-wing cross with a sensational diving header that flew past Ray Clemence. The game went to extra-time and, on 96 minutes, Lloyd McGrath crossed from inside the Spurs area and the ball struck the hapless Mabbutt's knee and looped over Clemence into the net for an own-goal. Coventry's name was finally added to the list of FA Cup winners.


Alan Sunderland wheels aways in celebration

Arsenal's Irish midfielder Liam Brady, today director of the Gunners' Youth Academy, enjoyed one of his best games for the club in a match that has become known as the 'five-minute final' because of its remarkable climax. Brady was influential throughout as Arsenal made up for their defeat by
Ipswich a year earlier, but in truth it had been an unremarkable final until the 86th minute.

The Gunners - who had already played 10 FA Cup ties in the campaign before the final, including five against Third Division Sheffield Wednesday to get past the third round - were comfortably in front after Brady had created two first-half goals. The first was converted by Brian Talbot and the second headed home emphatically by Frank Stapleton.

Maybe a touch of complacency had crept into the Arsenal players' heads, or maybe the introduction of substitute Steve Walford for David Price had affected their concentration, but with four minutes remaining Steve Coppell's free-kick found Joe Jordan, who turned the ball back inside for Gordon McQueen to sweep home. Two minutes later, sensationally, United were level as Coppell played Sammy McIlroy into the area and the Ulsterman jinked past David O'Leary and Walford before squeezing the ball past Pat Jennings into the net. It was an incredible comeback; and with extra-time now beckoning, United were in the ascendancy for the first time.

The momentum was with the Red Devils - but Brady kept his creative cool. He burst into United territory, accelerated between Lou Macari and Mickey Thomas and played a deft pass to Graham Rix on the left. Rix crossed the ball first time over the head of keeper Gary Bailey and there was Alan Sunderland, running in behind Arthur Albiston at the far post and stretching to knock the ball over the line. McIlroy later summed up the emotional roller-coaster of those dramatic four minutes, saying: "It was like winning the pools only to find you hadn't posted your coupon."  United legend Bobby Charlton simply said: "It shouldn't happen to a dog."  

(replay at Wembley; first match at Wembley ended 1-1 aet)

Ricky Villa scored one of the great Wembley goals

The first of three consecutive finals to be settled by a replay will always be remembered for Tottenham's Argentine connection - and in particular for the winning goal scored by one of their two Latin stars. The first game five days earlier had been inconclusive, Tommy Hutchison netting for City on 29 minutes and then for Spurs, with a deflected own goal, in the 80th; and the ineffective Ricardo Villa being substituted to his obvious disappointment.

The replay brought about a transformation in Ricky's fortunes. After only seven minutes Joe Corrigan blocked a Steve Archibald shot and the ball fell to Villa, who planted it in the net from seven yards. But City roared back and within three minutes were level, Steve MacKenzie athletically lashing home a screamer from 20 yards from a Hutchison knock-down. Four minutes into the second-half of a riveting, end-to-end affair, City took the lead. Dave Bennett was the meat in a sandwich formed by Chris Hughton and Paul Miller, and from the resulting penalty Kevin Reeves emphatically beat Milija Aleksic in the Spurs goal. Then with 20 minutes remaining, a Glenn Hoddle pass to Archibald ran free for Garth Crooks to drive it beyond Corrigan.

Six minutes later, Chris Galvin fed Villa, who was in the inside-left position. The bearded Argentinian was confronted by defenders but, displaying wonderful balance and control, set off towards goal. Villa jinked past Tommy Caton, dropped his shoulders to elude Ray Ranson, beat Caton again and, as Corrigan advanced towards him, knocked the ball into the net for the Spurs winner. Villa's goal has been hailed as one of the best-ever in FA Cup finals - a fitting way to decide what had been a highly entertaining contest.

(aet; Liverpool won 3-1 on penalties)

Konchesky's wonder strike stunned Liverpool

West Ham had appeared in the first-ever Wembley final, Liverpool in the first to be staged at the Millennium Stadium. Now both would contest the last to be played in Cardiff, ahead of the summer's World Cup in Germany. Liverpool had finished third in the Premier League and the Hammers, newly promoted, a creditable ninth. Hayden Mullins and Luis Garcia had been sent off in the League match between the clubs on 26 April, and both were suspended for the final.

The Reds started as firm favourites but before the game was half-an-hour old the Hammers were 2-0 up. On 21 minutes, they took the lead despite not having had a shot on goal. Xabi Alonso lost possession to Dean Ashton, who found Lionel Scaloni, and his low right-wing cross was met by Jamie Carragher, who inadvertently bundled the ball past his own keeper Jose Reina. Seven minutes later, West Ham's Matthew Etherington let fly with a shot that Reina failed to hold, and Ashton raced in to squeeze the loose ball beneath the keeper and just over the line.

After Peter Crouch had the ball in the net from a Steven Gerrard free-kick only to see his effort disallowed for offside, a similar Gerrard delivery was volleyed home emphatically by Djibril Cisse on 32 minutes, and Liverpool were back in it. Ten minutes into the second-half, with Fernando Morientes on for the injured Harry Kewell, Liverpool equalised when Crouch knocked the ball down and Gerrard despatched an unstoppable volley past Shaka Hislop from inside the area.

Then with 64 minutes gone, Paul Konchesky swung in an inviting cross which none of his team-mates could reach. The ball sailed over Reina into the Liverpool net to put West Ham stunningly back in front.

Liverpool battled in vain for another equaliser but the game moved inexorably into injury-time. Then the ball fell to Gerrard some way out, and despite suffering from cramp, the Liverpool skipper unleashed a 35-yard thunderbolt that flew past Hislop into the bottom corner. It was the ultimate in last-gasp rescues.

The final whistle blew almost immediately, and after an extra period littered with tired bodies needing treatment for knocks and cramps, it seemed the Hammers would win it at the death. Captain Nigel Reo-Coker flicked on a free-kick, but Reina dived to his left and somehow clawed the ball onto the far
post. Sami Hyypia tried but failed to clear it, and the ball fell to the injured Marlon Harewood, whose close-range volley went spinning wide from his handicapped left foot. So for the second year running, the FA Cup final would be decided on penalties. Hamann scored; Reina saved from Zamora. Hyypia missed for Liverpool, and Sheringham scored for the Hammers to make it 1-1. Gerrard inevitably converted, and Reina kept out Konchesky's kick. Then Riise scored to make it 3-1 to Liverpool. Anton Ferdinand had to score to keep West Ham in it - but Reina pulled off his third save and Liverpool had snatched the Cup.


Stanley Matthews bamboozled Bolton

The romance of the FA Cup was never better exemplified than in a final which immediately became immortalised for the exploits of one man. It is a testament to the contribution of Stanley Matthews that, although his team-mate Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick in the 1953 final, that amazing game is always referred to as 'the Matthews final'. Beyond the confines of Bolton, the hopes of a sentimental nation resided in a hugely popular 38-year-old winger who was assumed (wrongly, as it turned out) to be nearing retirement and who had twice before experienced the heartache of losing a Wembley FA Cup final.
Ironically, Matthews, playing with a pain-killing injection to minimise the effects of a thigh strain, didn't make much impact during the first hour of an all-Lancashire affair whose audience was significantly enlarged because many households had recently invested in their first TV sets to watch the Queen's Coronation. Footballer of the Year Nat Lofthouse disobeyed the script by giving Bolton the lead after just two minutes with an underhit effort that deceived Blackpool keeper George Farm. Wanderers' left-half Eric Bell pulled a hamstring on 18 minutes and was little more than a passenger thereafter; although Lofthouse fired against a post, the Seasiders equalised through a Mortensen effort that deflected in off Harold Hassall.

Bolton regained the lead shortly before half-time when Farm was again at fault, misjudging Willie Moir's attempt to connect with a Bobby Langton chip. Ten minutes into the second half, the courageous Bell defied the pain to head home a cross from Doug Holden to put the Trotters 3-1 ahead.

But with 30 minutes remaining, Matthews suddenly came into his own on the right wing, fed by a steady supply of passes from Ernie Taylor. He started tying the tiring Bolton defenders in knots, and from one of his high crosses to the far post, Mortensen made it 3-2. Matthews then set up chances for Jackie Mudie, Bill Perry and Mortensen, but all went begging. There were only 180 seconds  left when Mortensen completed his treble by firing a free-kick emphatically into the net. And deep into injury-time, Matthews jinked his way once more past a couple of opponents before slipping the ball inside for Perry to find the corner of the net. For pure emotion, it was hard to beat.  

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