FA Cup: Third Round shocks

The January giant-killing round is upon us! We look at five of our favourite cup upsets from the Third Round of the FA Cup, featuring top-tier shocks and player sackings, career-making goals and nigh-impossible results.

1933: Walsall 2, Arsenal 0

For Arsenal supporters, a trip to Fellows Park may have seemed like a formality en route to a potentially trickier Fourth Round tie. Herbert Chapman’s side had come into their own at the dawn of the thirties, winning the FA Cup at the start of the decade and lifting the club’s first title the following year. The Gunners finished runners-up in both the league and the cup in 1932, and were naturally tipped to challenge again in 1933.

Walsall, meanwhile, were consistent mid-table finishers in the Third Division. The Saddlers did, however, have previous form in the FA Cup: they took top-tier Middlesbrough to a Third Round replay in 1929 and did the same to Blackburn Rovers in 1931.

Arsenal headed up the country without a win in three and without some of their first-choice players. At the time, some believed it was due to illness: however, Chapman’s assistant, Bob Wall, would later suggest his boss chose to field a weaker team against less trying opposition. Nonetheless, the manager’s eleven only featured four reserves: big names like Frank Moss and David Jack, as well as future museum Hall of Famers Alex James and Cliff Bastin, remained on the teamsheet.

In front of over 11,000 supporters, one of the country’s top teams was turned over by their humble hosts. Gilbert Alsop struck for the Saddlers in the second half, then a Bill Sheppard penalty secured the club’s greatest ever result. Chapman was so incensed that he dismissed Tommy Black, the player responsible for giving away the spot kick, on the train home. Another debutant, Charlie Walsh, was sold within a week.

Walsall’s reward? A trip to another First Division side, this time Manchester City. There was no similar shock this time, the visitors going down 2-0 at Maine Road, but their place in football folklore had already been secured.

1959: Worcester City 2, Liverpool 1

Southern League outfit Worcester City had already turned plenty of heads prior to the Third Round, convincingly knocking out Millwall 5-2 to get their name in the hat. They were drawn at home to a sleeping giant. Liverpool had won five league titles (albeit no FA Cup), but were halfway through their fifth season at the second tier of English football.

A record crowd packed into St George’s Lane for the occasion, and were not to be disappointed. Within just ten minutes, 18-year-old Tommy Skuse had opened the scoring for the hosts. City’s defence held firm thereafter, and goalkeeper John Kirkwood kept the Reds at bay with a string of fine saves. With nine minutes remaining, an attempted clearance by Liverpool defender Dick White inadvertently looped up over his own ‘keeper, doubling Worcester’s advantage.

A converted penalty from Geoff Youngerman set up a nervy finish, but the Blues held on for a famous victory. The shock result heaped more pressure on Liverpool manager Phil Taylor: though the board persisted with him, the club did not achieve promotion in May, and he was replaced by a certain Bill Shankly just prior to Christmas. The rest, as they say, is history.

1972: Hereford United 2, Newcastle United 1

“Now Tudor’s gone down for Newcastle. Radford again…oh what a goal! WHAT. A. GOAL!”

Who would have thought that a Third Round replay would produce one of the most memorable lines of commentary in English football, and make an elite career of the man behind the microphone?

Another plucky Southern League side, Hereford United held Newcastle to an impressive 2-2 draw at St James’ Park to earn an eventual replay on their own turf – once said turf was sufficiently firm to play upon. After multiple postponements, the game eventually went ahead in February, on an Edgar Street pitch that very quickly resembled a bog. The British weather had well and truly levelled the playing field.

The Magpies spurned a host of glorious opportunities to open the scoring, hitting the woodwork multiple times, before Malcolm Macdonald finally headed in eight minutes from time. It looked like Newcastle had done just about enough – but Ronnie Radford had other ideas, collecting possession and unleashing a 30-yard strike beyond Willie McFaul.

John Motson’s iconic summary of the moment, and the ensuing pitch invasion, secured a new contract and big-game assignments on Match of the Day for the young commentator.

The goal took the game to extra time, where substitute Ricky George sent a bobbling shot beyond McFaul to trigger another pitch invasion and send the Geordies home empty-handed.

1989: Sutton United 2, Coventry City 1

In 1987, Coventry City lifted the FA Cup for the first time in their history. In 1989, they were dumped out in the Third Round by Conference opposition.

Sutton had embarked on a similarly impressive run the previous year, beating Aldershot and Peterborough United, then taking Middlesbrough to a Third Round replay. Few expected similar heroics against the Sky Blues, who boasted the likes of Steve Ogrizovic, Brian Kilcline, David Speedie and museum Hall of Famer Cyrille Regis amongst their ranks.

The expected early dominance from Coventry soon gave way to a more even game at Gander Green Lane, with the home side limiting their top-flight opposition to few chances after the first ten minutes. Remarkably, three minutes before half-time, Sutton drew first blood. From a corner kick, captain Tony Rains took full advantage of an error from Ogrizovic, heading home to send the 8,000-strong crowd into delirium.

Order was restored early in the second half as Coventry’s David Phillips levelled the scores – only for United to retake the lead. A well-worked corner routine saw Mickey Stevens lay the ball to Phil Dawson, whose superb cross was volleyed home at close range by Matthew Hanlan. Somehow, the score remained the same for the following thirty minutes, with Sutton defenders and ‘keeper Trevor Roffey putting their bodies on the line to protect the lead.

The result was later described as one of the biggest giant-killings in English football history. Sutton United would go on to play Norwich City in the following round, but alas, lightning did not strike twice: the Canaries waltzed to an 8-0 win at Carrow Road.

1991: West Bromwich Albion 2, Woking 4

To wrap up, we could have gone with Wrexham’s triumph over First Division champions Arsenal in 1992, but that’s a fantastic story well told elsewhere. Instead, we plumped for another early nineties giant-killing that perhaps doesn’t get the runout it deserves.

Back in 1992, West Bromwich Albion were a Second Division side, albeit a struggling one. Woking, on the other hand, were members of the Isthmian Premier League, operating at the seventh tier of English football. They got to the Third Round the hard way, beating Bath City, Kidderminster Harriers (away in a replay) and Merthyr Tydfil to be one of the remaining 64 teams left in the draw.

Their journey was expected to end at the Hawthorns against well-drilled Football League opposition, and despite twice going close to breaking the deadlock, a Colin West header right on half-time looked to have ended Woking’s fairytale.

Step forward Tim Buzaglo. The 29–year-old estate agent centre-forward turned the tie on its head in fourteen devastating minutes. First, a low slotted finish into the bottom corner. Then a header into an empty net after an initial save from Melvyn Rees. Finally, a touch and thumping low finish from inside the area.

Terry Worsfold got in on the act with a headed fourth for the Cards, and though Darren Bradley reduced arrears for the hosts, there was no way back for West Brom.

The stunning victory was later considered to be the least likely Third Round result in over 50 years of the competition: research from the FA and the University of Bath gave Woking a one in 16 million chance of winning the tie. Giant-killings don’t come much bigger than that.