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The harder they fall

ESPN staff
December 2, 2011
Ronnie Radford is pursued by fans © Getty Images

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The FA Cup is known for many things - being the world's oldest cup competition, primarily - but in the early rounds it is giant-killing exploits that fans anticipate above anything else.

The tradition and prestige of the competition is intrinsically linked not just to those teams who eventually emerge triumphant at Wembley each season, but to those unlikely and often unheraled sides that cause an improbably shock along the way.

With teams from up and down English football's pyramid preparing for their second round clashes this weekend, ESPN takes a look at some of the greatest feats of giant-killing in the history of the competition:

Hereford v Newcastle (1971-72)
No game sums up FA Cup giant-killing quite like Hereford's shock victory over Newcastle in the third round in 1972. It had everything - a big name, high-flying side visiting an unheralded, provincial opponent at an undersized, over-filled ground on a pitch that looked like the home side's mascot - a bull - had been put in charge of preparing

The action on the pitch, when it came, was equally dramatic. Newcastle's great striker Malcolm Macdonald had put the First Division side in front as a comfortable victory looked inevitable - before Ronnie Radford came up with arguably the greatest goal the competition has ever seen.

Picking up the ball in the mudbath of a midfield at Edgar Street, Radford played the ball into his forward who tapped it back first time. Running on to it at pace, Radford unleashed a right-foot drive from 30 yards that flew past the goalkeeper and into the roof of the net, stunning everyone who saw it. Radford's celebration - two hands held aloft - has also entered FA Cup lore, as fans from all corners of the ground ran on the pitch to celebrate with him.

Extra time followed (once the pitch had been cleared), before Ricky George - forever immortalised as "George the Substitute" by commentator John Motson - popped up with a winner to cue another pitch invasion and, belatedly, an historic giant-killing success.

Manchester United v Leeds (2009-10)
As Crystal Palace's recent League Cup demolition of United ably reminded us, there are few things rival fans enjoy more than seeing the perennial table-toppers embarrassed on their own patch. The last time that happened to them in the FA Cup was back in 2010, when arch-rivals Leeds - of all teams! - stunned Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.

Leeds only just seemed to be escaping from the hard times that had seen them drop down the divisions, with Simon Grayson leading them to the top of the League One table. But they were still considered healthy underdogs for their third round match, with United in their usual spot near the top of the Premier League.

The form book was once again shown to count for little, however, as Leeds' sharp-shooting striker Jermaine Beckford sauntered through the United backline in the early stages to get on the end of Jonny Howson's deep ball and just about scuff an agonising effort past Tomasz Kuszczak in front of a shocked Stretford End. It would prove the only goal of the game, one of the few home displays of his reign that Ferguson will want to forget.

Leicester City v Wycombe Wanderers (2000-01)
Perhaps not the biggest giant to be slain on this list (although Peter Taylor was only beginning to undo the good work Martin O'Neill had done to make the Foxes a strong Premier League side), but the manner of Division Two Wycombe's success in their quarter-final replay at Filbert Street makes this a sentimental high water-mark for the competition.

So strapped for attacking options was manager Lawrie Sanchez at the time, that he posted an advert on Ceefax (for our younger readers: a television text news service) pleading for any strikers (who weren't cup-tied or injured) to come on trial. Belfast-born, Finland-based journeyman Roy Essandoh answered the proverbial call, earning a week-to-week contract and a place on the bench for this mammoth match in the club's history.

Lawrie Sanchez hugs with Roy Essandoh © Getty Images

Steve Brown (who would later be sent off for his celebrations) put the visitors ahead early with a close-range header, before Muzzy Izzet tapped home an equaliser as Leicester threatened to show their superiority. Perhaps sensing the tide was turning, Sanchez was then dismissed from the dugout for a foul-mouthed tirade after a (somewhat dubious) penalty shout was turned down, forcing him to watch the rest of the game on a tiny television in the bowels of the ground.

He got in just in time to see Essandoh win the game, however, as the part-Ghanaian hit-man rose in the box to nod home the only goal he would score all season, at any level of the game. A Hollywood ending to a surreal story, one only cup competitions seem to throw up.

Sutton United v Coventry (1988-89)
Perhaps an indication of how football's quality gap has widened in the Premier League era, Sutton United remain the last non-league side to knock out top-flight opposition - over 20 years ago.

Coventry had won the competition in what was a surprise in itself just 18 months earlier, but were shocked at the 'intimate' (well, ramshackle) Borough Sports Ground as goals from Tony Rains and Matt Hanlan ensured a memorable giant-killing that remains to be repeated.

Wrexham v Arsenal (1991-92)
This is perhaps the nearest thing we've had to a repeat of Sutton United's success, as Wrexham had finished at the very foot of the Football League in the season prior to their third round meeting with Arsenal, the reigning First Division champions.

Wrexham had only avoided a plummet into the Conference because the club set to replace them did not have a ground up to scratch, although George Graham's successful Gunners probably didn't think much of the Racecourse either as they travelled to Wales.

They were given an uncomfortable time until striker Alan Smith broke the deadlock, but were then made to pay for failing to extend the gap. A soft free-kick decision allowed 37-year-old former Manchester United and Chelsea veteran Mickey Thomas (who would subsequently hit the headlines for altogether more controversial reasons) to equalise with a rasping strike, before Steve Wadkin hooked an ungainly effort beyond David Seaman to seal a remarkable success.

Walton and Hersham v Brighton & Hove Albion (1973-74)
Brighton were hidden away in the Third Division at the time, but Brian Clough's short stay as manager ensured national media interest in their plight as they travelled to fellow double-named side Walton and Hersham for a first round replay.

This wasn't a game Clough would want recalled in The Damned United, however, as his South Coast side were unceremoniously picked apart by their lowly Isthmian League opponents on the way to a chastening 4-0 defeat.

"We were whacked, we were thrashed," Clough admitted. "I can't remember a worse result in my career."

A few days later they would lose 8-2 in the league, however. Still a season away from spending 44 days at Leeds United, it's fair to say this wasn't Ol' Big Head's most successful spell at a club either.

Bournemouth v Manchester United (1983-84)
A young Harry Redknapp prowled the touchlines for Third Division Bournemouth in this one - so long ago that the name 'Alex Ferguson' hadn't been uttered once around the corridors at Old Trafford.

Ron Atkinson's collection of players may not have been the merciless trophy-acquiring machine the squad is today, but it still contained players of the quality of Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson. Redknapp's side, in contrast, were a collection of free transfers and lower-league cast-offs - perhaps a first indication of 'Arry's ability to spot a decent player.

Dean Court could barely believe what it was seeing when Milton Graham put the home side ahead, before Ian Thompson picked up on Robson's poor clearance to make it 2-0. United had no answer, as they were left with only a long and downbeat trip back to Manchester as Redknapp breezed onto bigger and better things.

Yeovil v Sunderland (1948-49)
One from the archives, as Southern League nobodies Yeovil pierced the fog that descended on Huish Park to put Sunderland, managed by the great Len Shackleton, out of the competition.

Conditions arguably played a role in the surprise, with the poor visibility only making it harder for the visitors to adapt to the distinctly sloped pitch (that they were forbidden from training on beforehand). In the end it was player-manager Alex Stock who opened the scoring, before Jackie Robinson forced extra-time in a game that came perilously close to being abandoned.

Mark Bryant found the net to put the home side back infront, before the late award of free-kick sparked another pitch invasion - unable to see, fans believed the whistle had signalled the end of the match. Despite such persistent flirtations with an abandonment the game was eventually completed - as the Somerset side completed a remarkable success.

Jermaine Beckford of Leeds United scores the winning goal during the FA Cup third round game with Manchester United © Getty Images

Colchester v Leeds United (1970-71)
Long before they were handed a rare chance to play the giant-killer, Leeds found themselves as the giants being slain on a visit to Layer Road (Colchester had briefly considered moving the game at Elland Road to make more money) at the start of the Seventies.

Don Revie's side were undoubtedly England's best during the period, but they weren't on this afternoon against Dick Graham's Fourth Division outfit. Graham, who played with Revie for a period at Leicester City, employed varied and innovative methods to subdue their illustrious opponents - ordering route one tactics on the pitch while placing chairs and other obstacles near the sidelines to give the illusion that the playing surface was not wide enough for Leeds to rely on their usual wing play.

But it was striker Ray Crawford who proved the difference, the one-time England international showing his pedigree in scoring the opening two goals before Dave Simmons took advantage of an error from goalkeeper Gary Sprake to build a shock 3-0 lead.

Leeds soon fought back - Norman Hunter and John Giles pulling two back with 17 minutes remaining - but Colchester held on to secure a famous success - although only after Graham Smith showed Sprake how it was done with a phenomenal save to deny Mick Jones.

Liverpool v Barnsley (2007-08)
One of two dramatic giant-killings for Barnsley during the season, on a run to the semi-finals where captain Brian Howard morphed into something approaching Captain Fantastic. Anfield was to prove his finest hour, as he drove on what was an underwhelming Championship side against a team that had played in the Champions League final barely six months previously.

Dirk Kuyt put the hosts ahead, before Steven Foster knocked in an equaliser after goalkeeper Luke Steele - signed on loan from West Brom just a day before the match - made a string of world-class saves to keep the scoreline respectable. The stage was then left for Howard to make his big impact, bringing down a high ball before beating two Reds defenders and rifling a low shot inside the near post to send the travelling fans into raptures.

Things got even better for the Tykes in the next round, as they rolled past Chelsea's star-studded line-up at Oakwell thanks to Kayode Odejayi's solitary goal. But to come from behind in front of the Kop was arguably even more impressive.

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