Sunday, 9 February 2014

1986-87 FA Cup: Fifth round

This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the first, second, third and fourth rounds of the 1986/87 FA Cup, which you can view here, here, here and here.

Prior to the 1987 FA Cup Fifth round, a football think-tank got together to discuss the future of the English game. Chaired by Jimmy Hill, assisted by Bertie Mee and Ron Greenwood, 13 first division managers attended the meeting, along with other luminaries such as England manager Bobby Robson, league secretary Graham Kelly, and PFA secretary Gordon Taylor, as the men at the top of the sport pondered how to improve the product currently on display.

Despite the good intentions, it seemed that not a great deal was accomplished; goalkeepers were to be encouraged to release the ball as quickly as possible, managers should not publicly criticise match officials, and managers and players should not write critical articles about their fellow professionals. Hardly ground breaking stuff, although Hill was encouraged by the meeting. "Football does not need moving a million miles. It simply needs a gentle shove in the right direction," concluded Hill, yet as he was saying this, events at home and across Europe were indicating differently.

UEFA had already announced that the ban on English clubs in European competitions would remain, and 18 English arrests in Spain before an international friendly highlighted the problem still facing English football. Closer to home, the threat of mergers between top teams became a reality, with two of the teams involved in the FA Cup Fifth round - QPR and Wimbledon - at the forefront of such talks.

For Wimbledon, the talk of a possible merger with Crystal Palace was hardly ideal preparation for the daunting task of taking on champions-elect Everton. Their days at Plough Lane were looking numbered, the ground seen as too small and financially unsound for the first division club, although on the other hand, the chance to sell the land for property development must have been appealing for those who stood to make a profit. Talks between Wimbledon managing director Sam Hammam and Palace chairman Ron Noades were advanced, with plans laid out for the newly merged club to play at Selhurst Park, Steve Coppell managing the side. For all involved, these were worrying times.

Naturally many were opposed to such a crass move. Wimbledon Chief Executive Colin Hutchinson resigned in protest, with fans staging a sit down protest in the car park after the Everton match. "It's disappointing all this has come out just before the biggest match in the club's history," stated Hutchinson, as everyone remembered that Wimbledon actually had the visit of Everton to contend with. Everton had won both league meetings comfortably, and when Paul Wilkinson gave them the lead in the live BBC match, it looked as if the class of Howard Kendall's men would be too much for the Crazy Gang.

"We got the runaround early on, because we showed them too much respect," noted Dons boss Dave Bassett after the match, his half-time team talk inspiring his team to a famous victory: "I told them to forget the TV cameras and get on with their jobs". There had been a slice of luck at the start of Wimbledon's comeback, John Fashanu winning a dubious penalty from Gary Stevens just before half-time, and although Neville Southall would save Kevin Gage's spot-kick, Glyn Hodges got to the rebound first to give the home team a much needed boost before Bassett's dressing down in the dressing room.

Wimbledon's second half goals unsurprisingly started at the boot of their keeper Dave Beasant, John Fashanu and Andy Sayer the scorers of the goals that resulted in Everton losing their first FA Cup tie outside Wembley since 1983. Fashanu was at the heart of everything on the day, a clash with Kevin Ratcliffe leaving the Everton skipper with a blood-soaked shirt, and an altercation with an Everton supporter at the conclusion of the match providing more column inches come the next day. "I'd be devastated if Wimbledon died. The club is my life," gushed an emotional Fashanu, as the merger discussions developed.

Howard Kendall licked his wounds and would lead his team to another league title at the end of the season, but for now he was left contemplating how easily his side had been overpowered by Wimbledon's style of play. "Assembled like a row of menacing dark blue tanks, they (Wimbledon) warmed up their engines, battered Everton into submission, and eventually ran over them," wrote The Times' Stuart Jones. Everton would not be the last team in the next few years to feel the full force of Fash and co.

If Wimbledon were very much the poor-relation in their merger talks, then QPR were at least in a position by which they did not have to leave their ground, which was little consolation seeing as their identity would still be stolen. When reports broke that Fulham were to sell Craven Cottage for property development and move to Loftus Road to form Fulham Park Rangers, the footballing world was stunned. Luckily the fans would eventually win the day, but as with Wimbledon, the furore surrounding QPR did not help their build-up to a tricky cup tie away at second division Leeds.

In front of a season-best crowd of 31,324, Leeds swarmed over a startled QPR, manager Billy Bremner employing the same in-your-face tactics as his Doncaster team had used in knocking out Rangers in the Third round of the 1985 FA Cup. With John Pearson easily winning his aerial battles against a QPR defence devoid of the suspended Alan McDonald, it was no surprise when the Yorkshire team took the lead through Ian Baird. Rangers luckily equalised just after the hour, an unfortunate own goal by David Rennie appearing to give the top-flight club a second bite of the cherry on their dreaded plastic pitch.

"We were determined not to play on it," commented Brendan Ormsby, referring to Leeds' desire to finish the tie at Elland Road rather than take the trip to the artificial surface at Loftus Road. Leeds continued to drive their opponents back, and with just five minutes to go, Ormsby scored a deserved winner from a corner, putting Leeds into the quarter finals for the first time since 1977. "I'm very disappointed. We just didn't play well at all," said an honest Jim Smith after the dust had settled. No one could deny Leeds their place in the last eight, after a display of passion and commitment that was simply too much for their opponents.

Another team to knock out higher league opposition were Wigan. Hull's defeat was not totally unexpected, after all Wigan had not lost a league game since November, and in 33 home FA Cup games spanning 20 years, they had tasted defeat only once. Once Hull had spurned gilt-edged chances via Andy Saville and Neil Williams, Wigan began to exert pressure, and when Chris Thompson gave them the lead on 59 minutes, Hull had a mountain to climb.

They were hardly helped when manager Brian Horton inexplicably substituted their best player in Billy Askew - "I took the wrong man off...put that one down to me," Horton later admitted - as further goals from Paul Jewell and Bobby Campbell gave Wigan, a club reportedly £300,000 in debt, another pay day. Despite Wigan's biggest crowd of the season, many still rightly viewed the town as predominantly rugby orientated, although David Lowe hoped that things could soon change: "But maybe we'll attract some fans with this cup run". A run to the quarter finals for the third division club could not have harmed their cause.

The age old problem of club versus country reared its head before the FA Cup weekend. Coventry, without the services of the suspended midfield duo of Lloyd McGrath and Dean Emerson, withdrew Dave Phillips from Wales' international friendly with Russia, a move that angered Wales boss Mike England, and prompted Welsh MP Roy Hughes to write to FA Secretary Ted Croker to complain. You couldn't blame Coventry, as risking an injury to Phillips would have been foolhardy, although you could see the argument from both sides, a club and country debate that still rumbles on today.

Destiny would of course decree that Phillips would be heavily involved in Coventry's 1-0 win at Stoke, in another match played in front of season's best gate for the home team. Stoke, who the week before had lost their first match in 15, were unlucky not to awarded a penalty, when Phillips blatantly brought down Lee Dixon, referee Bob Nixon sending Stoke manager Mick Mills into a rage, when he informed him that Phillips had made a genuine attempt to play the ball. "That more or less indicates you've missed the ball," an angry Mills stated, his mood not improved by a dubious winner.

Micky Gynn's strike in the 73rd minute, provided by Phillips, had Stoke complaining to Nixon again, the home team appealing that Keith Houchen was offside. However, Coventry had survived a tough assignment, and had still to concede a goal on their cup run. Gynn was candid enough to state that Coventry had ridden their luck, as the belief began to envelope the players and supporters that this could be City's year.

Another manager distinctly unhappy with the round of international friendlies prior to the Fifth round was Arsenal's George Graham. "Having players involved with the international scene reflects well on the club, but you really shouldn't have to prepare for such an important game without several of your team," complained Graham, who was probably mostly upset by the absence of his back four leading up to the home fixture against Barnsley (Tony Adams had earned his first full cap in England's 4-2 win in Spain).

The match was not much of a contest. Barnsley, rooted to the bottom of division two, were hardly likely to succeed where 13 division one clubs had failed in the league at Highbury that season, as a lacklustre Arsenal did just enough to make it through to the last eight. A Martin Hayes penalty gave Arsenal the lead, before an exquisite goal from substitute Charlie Nicholas settled matters. "Sheer class," was the verdict of Barnsley boss Allan Clarke, with The Times' Simon Jones also fulsome in his praise, writing that Nicholas had "wriggled past three challenges in quick succession like Charlie Chaplin pursued by the Keystone Kops".

The negative for Nicholas came in the shape of Graham, his manager saying that Nicholas' goal was "a bit lucky". Danger signs indeed for Champagne Charlie. He would have his day in the sun during the Littlewoods Cup final, but the Nicholas and Graham partnership was never likely to be a match made in heaven, Arsenal's star striker gradually forced out, as Graham moulded a team in his managerial image.

Peter Beardsley's relationship with Newcastle manager Willie McFaul was equally as strained. As Newcastle propped up the rest of the first division, Beardsley began to complain about playing in a deeper role to help out his ailing team, an argument shot down in flames by McFaul. With only 3 goals in 31 matches, Beardsley was not speaking from a particularly strong position - although his performances for England were still top quality - and as an estimated 12,000 Newcastle fans made the journey to White Hart Lane, the hope remained that their star turn could rediscover his form and inspire Newcastle to an unlikely victory.

Very much like Arsenal, Tottenham did not play particularly well, but their 1-0 win kept alive hopes of a treble. Clive Allen's 35th goal of the season, a penalty after Peter Jackson was adjudged to have fouled Richard Gough, saw off a poor Newcastle side that would eventually just survive the drop. The win gave Spurs' skipper Gough belief that the treble was on. "It is definitely possible. The place is bubbling at the moment and the side is good enough to maintain a challenge for all three trophies," said an optimistic Gough. With the combination of a solid defence, their midfield quintet of Hoddle, Waddle, Ardiles, Paul Allen and Hodge, and the prolific Clive Allen up front, Tottenham had reasons to be cheerful.

West Ham were not so fortunate, going out for the second year in succession to Sheffield Wednesday. Without the suspended Lee Chapman for the first match at Hillsborough, Wednesday looked toothless at first, West Ham deservedly taking the lead after ten minutes through Frank McAvennie, the Scottish striker delighted after Wednesday's manager Howard Wilkinson had criticised him and West Ham before the match, saying that both had been found out after a fine 85/86 season.

Stewart Robson missed a good chance to double the lead, before Gary Shelton equalised, as gradually the home team gained a foothold in the match. It would take a fine defensive effort from 40-year-old Billy Bonds to gain West Ham a replay, his performance against the teenage duo of Carl Bradshaw and David Hirst was impeccable - such was the difference in experience between the three, that Bonds made his debut for West Ham before the strike pair had been born. Bonds' display was lauded by manager John Lyall, and with a replay at Upton Park, the Hammers were now favourites to progress.

Wednesday had not beaten a Division One side since December, had last won away in the league in September, and had not won in London since January 1985, so their subsequent 2-0 win was seen as a turn-up for the books. Deploying Nigel Worthington as a sweeper, and with the midfield Garys of Megson and Shelton everywhere, goals from Chapman and Bradshaw defeated a West Ham team that was woeful on the night, in front of another bumper crowd of 30,257, the vast majority leaving disappointed, as Wednesday's decent record in the FA Cup in recent years continued.

The final match to be decided was a five-hour marathon between third division Walsall and Graham Taylor's Watford, or the £500 million shootout between Walsall owner Terry Ramsden and Watford chairman Elton John, as the Daily Mirror described it. The first match in front of a capacity crowd at Fellows Park saw Watford's David Bardsley give the visitors and early lead, before Trevor Christie levelled from the spot. Walsall's Nicky Cross almost won the tie late on, his effort hitting a post, but Walsall boss Tommy Coakley was sure that his side still had a chance come the replay at Vicarage Road: "There is nothing between the sides and we learned enough to believe we can still get through".

And what a replay it was. Eight goals, Walsall twice in front and twice behind, and at the end of it all the teams still could not be separated. "Never mind the quality, count the goals," wrote The Times' Stuart Jones, as the goals rained down; Cross gave Walsall the lead early on, only for a Kenny Jackett penalty to bring Watford level; Christie put Walsall 2-1 up, yet just a minute later Luther Blissett replied; Watford took the lead for the first time through John Barnes, but back came Walsall immediately as Phil Hawker equalised; extra-time brought two more goals, as Barnes again looked to have put Watford through, before Christie ensured a replay at Fellows Park just six days later, Walsall winning the toss to decide the venue.

Another sell out crowd would finally witness the end of Walsall's brave run, an Andy Dornan own goal the difference between the sides, and although Walsall gave Taylor's men a scare, they could find no way past Tony Coton. Walsall had earned an estimated £100,000 from their cup run, and were putting the building blocks in place for a successful promotion season the following year, but for Watford there was trouble ahead. Graham Taylor's departure in June 1987, and the relegation of the club thereafter, meant that by the start of the 1988/89 season, both clubs would be playing in the same division.

There may have been a lot wrong with English football in 1987, but the FA Cup certainly proved that there was still enough interest in the sport. And the competition did not disappoint, providing goals, shocks, and plenty of talking points. There was still more to come, as eight teams battled it out for the right to make it to Wembley and get their hands on that famous old trophy.

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