Top 10 FA Cup semi-finals

Ah, the magic of the FA Cup! With more shocks than a electricians' convention, more surprises than the end of Eastenders and more upsets than…well you get the point. But over the 142 years that the world’s favourite cup competition has been a thing, we have been treated to some spectacular clashes.

And as this year’s FA Cup semi-finals roll around, we dig out some of the best last-four ding-dongs there have ever been. Get the rattles out! Clack-clack-clack-clack-clack!

10. Portsmouth 2 Tottenham 0, 2010

Not a classic match by any stretch of the imagination, but the directions both teams have taken since could not be more different. Spurs have risen to a Champions League spot with whispers of a chance at the Premier League title. Pompey on the other hand, have crumbled to the brink of financial ruin and could find themselves in the third tier of English football for the first time in more than a decade next season.

But on this day in 2010 it was the south coasters who took the plaudits, with goals from Frederic Piquionne and moon-walking midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng. It was certainly a shock, as Spurs had been expected to walk it, especially as Pompey were already on their way to relegation to the Championship having been handed a nine point deduction for being broke as hell.

They lost the final to league winners Chelsea and have not been seen since, save for lots of court apperances.

9. Crystal Palace 2 Manchester United 2, 1995

Five years after they had contested one of the most exciting FA Cup finals for some time, the Eagles and Red Devils met again for a semi-final at Villa Park. Palace were back in the Premier League having been relegated in 1993 but bounced straight back a year later, while United were battling it out with Blackburn for the league title. A battle they would ultimately lose.

But there was a darker side to the clash. It was just weeks after Eric Cantona had leapt into the Selhurst Park crowd, studs first, to give Palace fan Matthew Simmons his own style of retribution, and the unrest between the sets of fans continued to the Midlands, where Eagles supporter Paul Nixon was killed after fans clashed. 

To the game, though, where Palace showed little of their league struggle to lead United twice through Chris Coleman and Iain Dowie but were twice pegged back and, like in 1990, lost the replay. They also went down that year despite finishing fourth from bottom as the top two league’s were rejigged. Unlucky.

8. Brighton 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1, 1983

“And Smith must score!” That line was actually from the final of the same year when Gordon Smith had just Gary Bailey to beat in the Manchester United goal with the game finely poised at 2-2 but couldn’t and United ran out 4-0 winners in the replay. The immortal words of radio commentator Peter Jones rung in Albion ears for years after, their only cup final, having not been beyond the fifth round before, and was the inspiration for a fanzine also.

But back to the semi-final where they faced Jack Charlton’s Sheffield Wednesday and were in fact soon to be relegated from the top flight. But it mattered not and instead of consolidating for survival, they went hell for leather at the Owls, with Jimmy Case opening the scoring thanks to a thunderbolt 35-yard free-kick.

Albion manager ‘Disco’ Jimmy Melia danced across the pitch at the final whistle – he got his nickname from his Saturday Night Fever style white shoes – and Brighton were in dreamland. Until the final replay, and subsequent relegation. Oh well. 

7. Manchester United 2 Liverpool 2 (AET), 1985

Before the days of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard there was Bryan Robson. What? The old guy whose managerial career has flopped more than clocks in a Salvadore Dali painting, I hear you cry. Yes, that man indeed. You see, before he looked like a stand-in teacher on the touchline, Robson owned football. No, really, he totally owned it. Alex Ferguson dubbed him one of the best players he ever managed, and no-one argues with him.

In 1985 Manchester United were a one-man team and that man was Robson. In the first tie of the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool Captain Marvell (that was Robson by the way not some camp 80s superhero) gave the Red Devils the lead, only for Ronnie Whelan to cancel it out and take the game to extra-time. Frank Stapleton restored United’s lead but Paul Walsh tapped home later on to take it to a replay.

The replay was all Robson. He scored the equaliser just after half-time with a delicious 25-yard curler, effortlessly swept into the top corner leaving Bruce Grobbelaar no chance (6:31 on the video). It was a goal to cap a mad, attacking frenzy of a game that was one of the best clashes between United and Liverpool ever.

6. Everton 4 Tottenham 1, 1995

Not often has one name struck such fear into a set of supporters and caused thousands of bodies to coil over into the foetal position, weeping, but mention Amokachi around Spurs fans and you might just get that reaction. The Nigerian scored twice to help Everton to a shock 4-1 win over Tottenham, and topped it with a crazy, tongue-out, crazy face celebration.

Spurs had been overwhelming favourites going into the game against the struggling Toffees but a combination of hard work and luck saw Joe Royle’s team take a 2-0 lead through Matt Jackson and Graham Stuart. Jurgen Kilnnsman pulled a goal back before even more good luck for Everton.

Royle, somewhow, got confused on the sidelines and sent on Daniel Amokachi by mistake. It was the best mistake he ever made as the Nigerian went on to score twice and send Everton to Wembley. 

5. Chesterfield 3 Middlesbrough 3, 1997

If ever there was an advert for the introduction of technology into football it was this semi-final clash, and it was 15 bleedin’ years ago! Second division Chesterfield took on Premiership mavericks Middlesbrough, who were enjoying one of their most successful eras ever, boasting the likes of little Juninho, big Emerson and, er, grey Ravanelli.

But that mattered little to the Spireites who went at their illustrious opponents, two leagues above them, with everything they had, opening up a 2-0 lead through Andy Morriss and Sean Dyche, now practising his Darth Vadar impressions as manager of Watford.

But the game swung on two contentious decisions; first Jon Howard’s shot bounced off the bar and crossed the line and would have made it 3-1 but was not given, and then David Ellery gave Boro a penalty when Juninho was felled outside the box. It finished 3-3 and Boro won the replay 3-0. For shame. Have a look out for a young Kevin Davies playing for Chesterfield.

4. Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1, 1999

Fun fact: this was the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay and it wasn’t a bad one to bow out on. After a goalless first tie, where Roy Keane had one of the most baffling offside goals ruled out (not that anyone was shedding a tear for him) the teams reconvened three days later.

David Beckham, fully Brylcreemed up, gave United the lead with a trademark humdinger, before Dennis Bergkamp equalised. Four minutes later Keane, probably still smarting from his disallowed goal a few days before, was sent off and the game seemed to swing Arsenal’s way. A penalty for the Gunners in the final minute looked to have the game won, but Peter Schmeichel saved Bergkamp’s effort.

In extra-time 10-man United held firm until Ryan Giggs intercepted Patrick Vieira’s pass, and rounded 402 Arsenal defenders before smashing it in, and then revealed his undergarment knitted sweater to the world.

3. Coventry 3 Leeds 2, 1987

These days a Championship clash, and not one of the good ones, but back in 1987 a game between Coventry and Leeds was one to relish. Well, kind of, Leeds were actually in the old second division having been relegated the year before but still had the smell of that Don Revie era wafting about the place.

And it nearly helped them into that year’s final as David Rennie put them ahead only for Coventry’s Micky Gynn to equalise and then set up Keith Houchen for what looked like the winner. But Keith Edwards took it to extra-time. (How great are these journeymen 80s footballer names, by the way?)

Winger Dave Bennett won it for City, though, to send them through to the final for the first, and only, time where they went on to beat Spurs.

2. Spurs 3 Arsenal 1, 1991.

The first semi-final to be hosted at Wembley was certainly one to remember. Well, for Spurs fans anyway. Paul Gascoigne inspired his side to a 3-1 win over their bitter rivals with a stunning 35-yard free-kick after just five minutes and two more goals from Gary Lineker sealed the path, er, back to Wembley for the final with Nottingham Forest.

Gazza wasn't even a sure starter that day on account of recovering from a hernia operation but played and the rest is history. In the final against Forest an over-eager tackle on Gary Charles saw Gascoigne rupture knee ligaments and many claim he was never the same again.

Even better than the goal, though, was Gazza's post match interview. Watch out for the best face ever at 20 seconds.

1. Crystal Palace 4 Liverpool 3 (AET), 1990

Arguably the greatest FA Cup semi-final ever witnessed took place at Villa Park on 8th April, 1990 where little Crystal Palace, only promoted to the top flight a year before, with a team full of journeymen and non-league signings shocked media darlings Liverpool with a smash-and-grab of the highest order.

The Reds had beaten Palace 9-0 in the league just five months before so another walkover was expected, but Mark Bright cancelled out Ian Rush's opener seconds into the second-half and goals from Gary O'Reilly and Andy Gray turned the game on its head, as John Barnes and Steve McMahon replied for Kenny Dalglish's men.

An extra-time winner from current Newcastle boss Alan Pardew sealed a famous win as the Eagles won fans up and down the country for their brave, battling performances, which launched the careers of the likes of Ian Wright, Bright and John Salako.