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FA Cup: The underdog story

ESPN staff
January 25, 2013
Dave Beasant saved a John Aldridge penalty as Wimbledon stunned Liverpool to win the FA Cup © Getty Images

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History tells us the FA Cup fourth round is not quite the final frontier when it comes to fairytale cup runs. Below we recall some of the more memorable cup adventures; some of which ended in glory, others heartache, but all carried unbridled drama.

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Wimbledon - 1987-88

Wimbledon's famous FA Cup win of 1988 was memorable for a catalogue of reasons, not least the fact that their keeper Dave Beasant became the first man to save a penalty in the final. Clive Goodyear actually got the ball when a penalty was awarded, but it did not matter as Beasant flung himself to his left to deny John Aldridge - who always sent spot-kicks into the same corner.

The Crazy Gang had not kept a clean sheet all the way to the final, beating West Brom (4-1), Mansfield (2-1), Newcastle (3-1), Watford (2-1) and Luton (2-1). So even though Lawrie Sanchez's glancing header gave them a 37th minute lead in the final, nobody expected them to hang on. Liverpool did have a perfectly good Peter Beardsley goal disallowed when the ref whistled for a Liverpool free-kick in the build-up, but it was Wimbledon's year.

Kidderminster Harriers - 1993-94

For 16 years, Kidderminster acted as the answer to the quiz question: "Who were the last non-league team to reach the FA Cup fifth round?" In 1994 the Harriers made the most of home advantage to beat Kettering in the first round before seeing off Woking 1-0 in the second. It was anticipated that their run would come to an end when drawn away at Division One Birmingham in round three, but Jon Purdie's 64th minute strike caused an upset.

It was then back to Aggborough for a clash with Preston, with Delwyn Humphreys this time the Kidderminster hero. West Ham feared the worst when they were drawn away to the Harriers in the fifth round, but Lee Chapman snatched the game's only goal in front of 8,000 fans.

Millwall - 2003-04

Millwall's run to the Wembley final of '04 could easily be dubbed "The Making of Tim Cahill". The Australian midfielder put himself in the shop window with a series of goalscoring displays for the Championship side, later earning him a move to Everton, where he plundered over 50 league goals to become a fan favourite.

Cahill began his heroics with the winner in the third round 2-1 victory over Walsall, and the Lions went through Telford and Burnley before meeting Tranmere in the quarter-finals. Cahill netted again to book a semi-final meeting with Sunderland at Old Trafford, and he grabbed the only goal in that game to seal a Wembley showdown with Manchester United. The fairytale ending did not happen as Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy (2) showed their class in a 3-0 win. Nevertheless, it remains the only FA Cup final appearance in Millwall's history.

Richard Brodie was so close for Crawley © PA Photos

Crawley Town - 2010-11

The cup run that probably still haunts Richard Brodie to this day. Conference side Crawley, riding the crest of a wave under new owners, played mighty Manchester United in the fifth round in the 2010-11 campaign, losing 1-0 in a spirited display at Old Trafford. However, it was so nearly different for Town when Brodie sent a header against the bar in the 93rd minute.

Prior to that loss, Crawley spent big - certainly for a Conference club - bringing in a cartload of new players, and after smashing Guiseley 5-0 they punched above their weight against Swindon (3-2), Derby (2-1) and Torquay (1-0) before facing United. Defeat to Sir Alex Ferguson's side did not dent their momentum, winning the league that season to reach the Football League for the first time in the club's history, and they reached the FA Cup fifth round again the following season, this time losing to Stoke.

Telford United 1984-85

Alliance Premier League outfit Telford United left their mark on the FA Cup with a staggering run to the fifth round in 1985, and over the years United had a habit of writing stories in football's most famous cup competition, prior to the club's eventual closure in 2004.

Stockport, Burnley, Stoke, Brentford and Crewe were all upset by United over the years, but never did it get better than in 1985. There was little sign of a cup run as they drew 1-1 with Lincoln in the first round before winning the replay, but then Preston were thrashed 4-1 at their own Deepdale home in the next. Bradford were downed in the third round before another replay was required in the fourth against Darlington, who were eventually swept aside 3-0. In the end, Everton played the role of villains by ending the Telford dream 3-0 at Goodison Park, but the memory lives on.

Sunderland - 1972-73

Surely the greatest save in FA Cup final history. Sunderland, looking to become the first second-tier side to win the FA Cup since West Brom in 1931, led holders Leeds 1-0 midway through the second half in front of a packed Wembley crowd. Ian Porterfield had scored the opener, but Jimmy Montgomery would prove the real hero.

Leeds, pressing to get back into the game, carved out a headed chance for Trevor Cherry, who forced a diving save from Montgomery. The ball fell to Peter Lorimer, who simply had to score with the rebound only to see Montgomery miraculously recover to turn his goalbound effort against the underside of the bar.

Sunderland had beaten Arsenal in the semi-finals - which was a big enough shock, but they unleashed a suffocating, relentless gameplan on Leeds in the final, producing one of the greatest FA Cup shocks of all time.

Blyth Spartans 1977-78

Blyth Spartans, of the Northern League, have reached the fifth round of the FA Cup only once in their 114-year history, and it culminated in a game played in front of over 42,000 people at Newcastle's St James' Park.

The Spartans began with a first-round 1-0 win over Burscough before Chesterfield and Enfield were beaten by the same scoreline, the draw remaining kind to Blyth by handing them three consecutive home ties. They then had to travel to second-tier Stoke City in the fourth round, producing arguably the result of the round with a thrilling 3-2 victory. More heroics followed when Wrexham were forced to a replay in the fifth, but Blyth's luck finally ran out as they were defeated 2-1 in front of a bumper crowd in the North East.

Here's to the dream: Brentford

Yeovil Town 1948-49

Rarely has the dream been followed so emphatically by the nightmare as when Yeovil surged to the fifth round in 1949. Town became known as the giant-killers of English football along their memorable FA Cup adventure, but having booked a dream tie with Manchester United, they were eventually hammered 8-0.

Romford, Weymouth and Bury were swept aside with authority as Yeovil scored 11 and conceded one en route to the fourth round. The Southern League side then stunned Sunderland 2-1 in front of a record home crowd of over 17,000, but United brought them crashing down to earth soon after.

Southampton - 1975-76

The first and only major trophy success of Southampton's 127-year history, Bobby Stokes achieved what some of the club's future stars failed to manage when Saints reached another FA Cup final in 2003, scoring the winner to shock Manchester United.

Lawrie McMenemy's side finished sixth in Division Two during the 1975-76 campaign, while United were third in the top flight. On paper the final looked one-sided, but this was the FA Cup.

Saints beat the likes of Aston Villa, West Brom and Crystal Palace to book their date at Wembley and, after surviving an early storm from their illustrious counterparts, grew confidently into the match. Mick Channon wasted a glorious chance to open the scoring when one-on-one with Alex Stepney, but it didn't matter as Stokes converted Jim McCalliog's pass for a dramatic winner seven minutes from time.

Colchester United - 1947-48

Colchester United's cup run in the late 1940s was a pre-cursor to greater things for the Southern League club, who used their momentum to become elected to the Football League in 1950.

The mighty Banbury Spencer provided United's first-round opponents, beaten 2-1 before Wrexham and Huddersfield also felt the Layer Road roar. Bradford Park Avenue were sent packing in a 3-2 thriller as Colchester reached round five, where they were beaten 5-0 by Blackpool.

That wouldn't be the last the FA Cup saw of the U's, though, as they went a step further in 1971, beating Don Revie's famous Leeds side to reach the quarter-finals. Once again, 5-0 proved an unhappy scoreline as they lost to Everton on this occasion.

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