Five Biggest Upsets in FA Cup History

There are shocks and then there are shocks - here is our list of what we think are the biggest ever in the FA Cup?

The FA Cup is still the focus for many clubs looking to reach the tournament proper.

The FA Cup is synonymous with shocks with a whole host of memorable giant-killing acts taking place down the years. Here, we run down our top five biggest upsets in the famous knockout competition’s history.

1 – Hereford United 2 Newcastle United 1 (Fa Cup Third-Round Replay – 1972)

If there’s one FA Cup goal that is replayed more than the rest then it’s Ronnie Radford’s rocket for Hereford United against Newcastle in a third-round replay in 1972. This famous strike was the equaliser in an eventual 2-1 win for the non-leaguers at a packed Edgar Street and remains difficult to beat in terms of FA Cup shocks.

The result was the first time a non-league club had beaten a top-flight club in a competitive fixture since 1949 with the heroic Southern Football League outfit, in the fifth tier of the English football league system, seeing off the First Division Magpies.

Malcolm MacDonald had put the visitors ahead with just eight minutes to go before Radford’s magic moment three minutes later sparked wild celebrations on a bog of a pitch. The famous goal took the game to extra-time and then Bobby George incredibly won it for the minnows in the 103rd minute.

2 – Liverpool 0 Wimbledon 1 (FA Cup Final – 1988)

Liverpool’s Wembley defeat to Wimbledon in the final of 1988 was a huge FA Cup upset, considering the stage and the respective stature of the two clubs at the time.

Forget the fact both were Division One sides. Back then, this was mighty Liverpool against the most unfashionable and disliked Dons. But, on the day, Vinnie Jones and co more than revelled in their underdog status as they knocked the Reds out of their stride to deservedly lift the cup.

Liverpool had just enjoyed a stellar season and Kenny Dalglish’s 1987-88 title-winning side is still remembered by fans as being one of the most exciting attacking teams ever to grace Anfield. New signings John Aldridge, Peter Beardsley and John Barnes had formed a thrilling attacking triumverate so Wimbledon – who had risen up from the fourth tier and had only been a Football League club for a total of 11 years – would routinely be brushed aside, the respected theory went.

However, it was apparent from when the two sets of players lined up in the famous old tunnel that the unfancied Londoners’ plan was to intimidate, rattle and try to overcome their more superior opponents with a fair bit of physicality and a whole lot of bluster. And it worked an absolute treat. From early on when Jones’ scythed down McMahon to when they outjumped the Liverpool defence to score the crucial only goal when Lawrie Sanchez headed in Dennis Wise’s free-kick, Wimbledon were in the faces of Liverpool and, simply put in football parlance, did a job on them.

Aldridge’s missed penalty in the second half only added to the drama as Dave Beasant guessed right and pulled off a flying save to help the Dons deliver the most unlikely of final upsets on the biggest domestic stage of all.

3 – Sutton United 2 Coventry City 1 (FA Cup Third Round – 1989)

Another famous instance of a non-league side giant-killing a top-flight club came in early 1989 when Coventry were sent crashing out by Conference team Sutton.

The Sky Blues, who had memorably won the FA Cup for the first time in their history just two years previous, were expected to advance into the fourth round without too many problems but Sutton had other ideas.

The visitors had missed plenty of chances before Tony Rains headed Sutton in front just before half-time, taking advantage of a misjudgment from a corner from City keeper Steve Ogrizovic at his near post. The top-flight side equalised soon after the break when David Phillips struck but, just before the hour mark, another well-worked set-piece floored Coventry again. After a short corner was played to Phil Dawson, his cross was volleyed into the net from close range by Matthew Hanlan and Sutton were back in front.

The Conference team survived a late onslaught by Coventry as they held on for a 2-1 win in what remains the most memorable game played at their modest Gander Green Lane home.

4 – Wrexham 2 Arsenal 1 (FA Cup Third Round – 1992)

Fourth-tier side Wrexham caused a sensation in 1992 when they dumped the then English champions Arsenal out of the FA Cup at the Racecourse Ground.

Alan Smith had put the Gunners in front just before half-time, sliding home Paul Merson’s cut-back, and George Graham’s men were then expected to take control of the tie. However, the Welsh side responded superbly in the second half and equalised through Mickey Thomas’ thunderbolt free-kick in the 82nd minute. A replay would have been celebrated by Wrexham but, just two minutes later, the home fans went wild when Steve Watkin stretched to fire them in front.

This upset is regularly referred to as one of the greatest FA Cup giant-killings of all time and Arsenal boss Graham called it his “lowest moment in football”.

5 – Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle United (2011)

Stevenage were enjoying their first season in the Football League in the 2010-11 season when they drew Premier League Newcastle at home in the third round.

Their eventual 3-1 victory at Broadhall Way marked just the third time a team in the fourth tier of English football had beaten a Premier League side since its formation in 1992.

The League Two team took the lead five minutes into the second half when Stacy Long’s deflected effort flew past Tim Krul and it was 2-0 when Michael Bostwick arrowed in a fine drive off the post from distance. Joey Barton gave the Magpies late hope in injury-time, but Stevenage quickly restored their two-goal advantage through Peter Winn to seal a deserved win and a place in the fourth round.

A sports journalist for over 15 years, Aidan has been part of written and audio coverage on a wide-ranging number of events. Having played and coached at amateur level, he offers in-depth insight and opinion into the world of football in particular.
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