The FA Cup is still a great competition in MD's view despite the best efforts of many clubs to prioritise the Champions League / 4th place / avoiding relegation / getting promotion / staying in mid table etc etc. Anyhow with a massive FA Cup semi final brewing to really whet the appetite (as well as the Manchester derby) we thought we'd pick 10 classic semis for your amusement.
Coventry's thrilling journey to the Cup Final in 1987 was topped off by a splendid semi final against Leeds in Sheffield. 1986/87 was a rare season when Coventry avoided needing to win their last match to stay in the top flight. The astute management team of John Sillett and George Curtis had arrived at the club the previous summer and created a side that spent the season in the top half (mostly) playing attractive football. But it was the FA Cup that brought the Sky Blues glory. They hadn't played a home game in the competition since beating Bolton 3-0 at Highfield Road in the 3rd Round. Manchester United were beaten at Old Trafford in the 4th round (Fergie's first ever cup defeat at the club) and the Sky Blues then squeezed passed 2nd Division Stoke in last 16. Coventry had already tasted victory at Hillsborough after soundly beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 in the quarters. Leeds awaited them in the semi finals. Normally they'd be regarded as favourites but they'd been relegated from the top division in 1982 and had since been bobbing about in mid table. Billy Bremner was the latest Revie era legend tasked with the job of restoring lost prestige. David Rennie's early header led City for much of a match which got better and better. The introduction of Micky Gynn turned the match. His equaliser on 70 minutes and set up Keith Houchen to make it 2-1 ten minutes from time. Keith Edwards equalised late on to force extra time. It was Coventry's day though. Winger Dave Bennett grabbed the winner to send the Sky Blues to Wembley for the first, and only, time. There, they'd go on to beat hot favourites Tottenham in another classic. Keith Houchen, Micky Gynn, Dave Bennett. The FA Cup has long been overshadowed by the relentless hype and crushing power of the Premier and Champions Leagues. Yet those Coventry journeymen, and many others like them, will always be part of the tournaments folklore. Part of the great fabric of English football history that isn't about coming 4th or image rights.
The good old days eh? 3 day weeks, eagle-eyed Action Men, The Good Old Days on TV (a show ahead of its time in my view). We also had epic FA Cup battles that seemed to last longer than an Ashes series. The most famous being the attrition fest that was the 1980 FA Cup semi final between Arsenal and Liverpool. The tie took four games (totalling 420 minutes!) before it was finally settled in a contest which ebbed and flowed less elegantly than the Western Front. The first game at Hillsborough was a grim battle ending 0-0. At Villa Park David Fairclough gave Liverpool the lead before a late equaliser from Alan Sunderland meant another Birmingham replay. This time Liverpool needed a late equaliser through Dalglish after Sunderland had scored the quickest ever goal in a semi final, 13 seconds in. Aston Villa were by now complaining about their pitch being roughed up by the ongoing scuffle. So the FA (for a laugh) decided that Highfield Road, Coventry (on a Thursday) should be the 3rd replay venue. This time there was a winner. Brian Talbot scored the only goal of the game to finally put the saga out its misery. Perhaps Arsenal had the upper edge due to their experience of an even lengthier struggle the previous year against 3rd Division Sheffield Wednesday, which lasted 5 games. Arsenal were ultimately victorious when Wednesday finally surrendered due to a lack of supplies getting through to the front.