It’s always been said that it’s worse to lose a semi-final than actually get to the final and fall at the last hurdle.
Obviously, now that the last four in the FA Cup face each other at the national stadium, that may not be the case, as it was always the fact that Wembley was so near, yet so far and for losing sides that made defeat even more painful.
The fact that the competition has reached do-or-die proportions by the semi-final stage probably explains why we have seen so many classics down the years as teams give their all to earn their place in the final, desperate not to miss out on a Wembley place.
But strangely, since everyone has been expected to traipse all the way to North London, purely to earn the right to traipse all the way to North London again a few weeks later, this hasn’t necessarily been the case.
So sit back and prepare to re-live some epic neutral ground last-four fixtures that have thrown up drama, excitement, agony and ecstasy in equal measure as jubilant fans would justifiably be able to sing: “We’re all going to Wembley!”
- 1 BOLTON WANDERERS 4-3 EVERTON 1953 (Maine Road)
- 2 ARSENAL 1-1 LIVERPOOL 1980 (Hillsborough, Villa Park & Highfield Road)
- 3 MANCHESTER UNITED 2-2 LIVERPOOL 1985 (Goodison Park & Maine Road)
- 4 COVENTRY 3-2 LEEDS 1987 (Hillsborough)
- 5 CRYSTAL PALACE 4-3 LIVERPOOL 1990 (Villa Park)
- 6 OLDHAM 3-3 MANCHESTER UNITED 1990 (Maine Road)
- 7 CHESTERFIELD 3-3 MIDDLESBROUGH 1997 (Old Trafford & Hillsborough)
- 8 ARSENAL 1-2 MANCHESTER UNITED 1999 (Villa Park)
BOLTON WANDERERS 4-3 EVERTON 1953 (Maine Road)
On the way to the famous 1953 “Matthews final” Bolton and Everton produced a similarly impressive thriller at Maine Road.
Wanderers started brilliantly with Nat Lofthouse scoring twice in the first half along with goals from Doug Holden and Willie Moir as Bolton went into half time 4-0 up.
Everton were also reeling after their striker Dave Hickson had to go off for 15 minutes after receiving a blow to the head, and to add insult to injury Tommy Clinton missed a penalty for the Blues.
But the “Toffees” bounced back briefly in the second half with two goals from John Willie Parker and Peter Farrell making it interesting, but Bolton ultimately managed to hang on fora memorable victory.
ARSENAL 1-1 LIVERPOOL 1980 (Hillsborough, Villa Park & Highfield Road)
Played over four games and lasting some 420 minutes this game holds the record for the longest ever English semi-final encounter ever.
Despite the first game offering little the replay at Villa Park made amends with Arsenal equalising late to frustrate Liverpool, who were by far the better side.
When the sides met for a third time, again at Villa Park, Arsenal went ahead for the first time in the tie after just 13 seconds with Alan Sunderland's opener still being the fastest-ever goal in a semi-final. However, Liverpool had the last laugh with a very late Dalglish leveller.
In the only semi-final ever to be played at Coventry City's Highfield Road, Brian Talbot headed home the only goal of the game to finally take The Gunners through to Wembley.
MANCHESTER UNITED 2-2 LIVERPOOL 1985 (Goodison Park & Maine Road)
READ MORE: THE STORY OF THE EPIC 1985 FA CUP SEMI FINAL
Liverpool were the team to beat in the 1970s and ‘80s, but all too often in this period, Manchester United were to be more than a match when the two met in cup ties.
United had beaten Liverpool in the 1977 FA Cup final, stopping them winning the double in the process, and knocked them out at the semi-final stage two years later. In 1985 they once again met in the semis and it was no realsurprise they they served up another blistering encounter.
United were ahead twice, thanks to strikes from Bryan Robson and Frank Stapleton, but a curling effort from Ronnie Whelan and then Paul Walsh, with a controversial effort made things all square in injury time
United had the last laugh though, winning the replay 2-1 at Maine Road a few days later thanks to fine strikes from Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes.
COVENTRY 3-2 LEEDS 1987 (Hillsborough)
Leeds had reached the final four times under Don Revie, while Coventry had never made it to Wembley before this 1987 semi final but in all honesty it was hard to know who was favourites.
David Rennie heading home for Leeds on 13 minutes in an end-to-end encounter only for Coventry to to come back into the game but couldn't make the pressure count until substitute Micky Gynn was introduced; scoring the equalizer on the 70th minute he then setting up Keith Houchen ten minutes later to put the Sky Blues ahead.
However, Leeds were quick to reply five minutes later to force extra-time, but it would be Dave Bennett who would score a well-earned winner and take City to Wembley for the first time.
CRYSTAL PALACE 4-3 LIVERPOOL 1990 (Villa Park)
This was the first of a rare Sunday double header as both semi-finals were broadcast live for the first time ever across the country.
Liverpool were looking for another double and had already humiliated Palace, beating them 9-0 in the league at Anfield back in October; but once again form proved to mean nothing in the FA Cup.
One goal to the good Liverpool were cruising, but Palace were transformed after the break and incredibly not only equalized but went in front, only for Liverpool to come roaring back thanks to a Steve McMahon piledriver and a John Barnes penalty, which put them back into the lead.
Astonishingly the Eagles equalised once more before an Alan Pardew header from a flicked-on corner took them to their first ever FA Cup final at Wembley.
OLDHAM 3-3 MANCHESTER UNITED 1990 (Maine Road)
In the second installment of this incredible double bill the United-Oldham match would prove even more intense than Palace's victory just hours earlier.
Joe Royle's impressive Oldham side went ahead after five minutes through Earl Barrett, only to be pegged back on the half hour by a typical Bryan Robson effort and after that the Lattics would never lead the tie again despite posing the greater threat in this classic encounter.
Neil Webb’s header gave United the lead in the second half only for Ian Marshall to stun United once more. Danny Wallace appeared to have settled things in the first period of extra time only for substitute Roger Palmer to make it 3-3 and ensured there would be a replay – which United eventually won 2-1 thanks to Mark Robins.
READ MORE: COVENTRY CITY’S DAY IN THE FA CUP SUN
CHESTERFIELD 3-3 MIDDLESBROUGH 1997 (Old Trafford & Hillsborough)
Chesterfield looked to become the first side from the third tier to reach the FA Cup final when they faced relegation threatened Middlebrough at Hillsbrough.
Leading 2-0 against Bryan Robson's expensive outfit Chesterfield would eventually see their dreams of a cup final place shattered thanks to goals from Fabrizio Ravanelli and Craig Hignett. If that wasn't bad enough, David Elleray and his linesman decided Jonathan Howard's effort hadn’t crossed the line despite replays proving otherwise.
A dramatic late equaliser from Jamie Hewitt did earn The Spireites a replay, but they were no match for their opponents in the replay, going down 3-0.
ARSENAL 1-2 MANCHESTER UNITED 1999 (Villa Park)
READ MORE: GREAT FA CUP FINALS WE STILL TALK ABOUT
the final ever FA Cup final replay and this really was a case of sving the best to last.
With Alex Ferguson’s side chasing the treble they had been reduced to ten men following the sending-off of Roy Keane but still found themselves 1-0 up before Dennis Bergkamp pulled the Gunners level before missing a last minute spot kick that would have won it for the Londoners
And with ten minutes left of extra-time and a dreaded shoot-out looming looming, Patrick Vieira’s wayward ball was pounced on by Ryan Giggs. With nothing much on, he went past a string of Arsenal defenders to the edge of the box, before firing a fierce shot past David Seaman and then running down whirling his shirt in celebration as he ran down the touchline.