FA Cup replays are great, no matter what Fergie, Rafa and Harry think

When it suits him, Sir Alex Ferguson can be quite a student of the FA’s rules and regulations. The brief, and swiftly abandoned, dalliance with rule 11a may not have been as thrilling as his tango with Dimitar Berbatov in the summer, but it does have wider-reaching implications.

Rule 11a sounds innocuous enough. It allows an FA Cup game to go to extra time and penalties and avoid the need for an replay providing the two clubs agree a week or more in advance, and is primarily in there for small non-league clubs.

Many of these teams face large costs, largely travel-related, for a mid-week replay and completing the tie in one game means the regional clubs don’t end up out of pocket for a cup tie. In August Ringmer and Rye United went to extra time in their extra-preliminary qualifying round tie. Ringmer won 4-3 without the need for a replay.

For teams like the tiny East Sussex side, this is understandable but clubs such as Manchester United don’t have such cash worries (or, as their sojourn to Brazil in 2002 showed, the same respect for its history). And while there’s a point about fixture congestion, Premier League squads should have the depth to be able to handle a cup replay.

The FA are now looking at the possibility of amending the rules to 11a only applies to non-league sides, least come a busy winter, a couple of Premier League sides decide they can’t be bothered with a replay and another part of FA Cup tradition, and another piece of what makes the competition so special slowly dies.

So, in praise of the humble replay, here’s ten of the best FA Cup games that ended in a draw and had to go to a replay. Had we had extra-time and penalties without replays, the history of the competition could have been very different indeed. And, with Manchester United featuring in four of these, perhaps Fergie is only too aware of the history of the FA Cup replay.

Quick note: the criteria for this list is not just the quality of the games themselves (although that is a consideration) but the history and the significance of these results).

1. Hereford United v Newcastle United (1972)
The Bulls were in the Southern League then and had made it to the third round for only the third time in their history when they drew top-flight opposition in the form of Newcastle United at St James’ Park.

Despite Newcastle fielding no less than six internationals in their side, Hereford took a shock league in the first minute. Nevertheless, the Magpies fought back and it looked like normal service had been resumed when Malcolm MacDonald and John Tudor put the First Division side in front. But Hereford’s player-manager equalised with a long-range strike to take Newcastle back to Edgar Street for the replay.

After no less than three postponements, Hereford went on to cause arguably the biggest shock in the history of the competition when Ricky George scored in extra time to stun Newcastle and give the Bulls a famous 2-1 victory.

2. Sheffield Wednesday v Arsenal (1979)
Now if we’re talking FA Cup replays, this is the daddy of all ties. Arsenal may have won the FA Cup in 1979, beating Manchester United 3-2 in the final, but they took their time getting there, needing no less than FOUR replays to get passed Third Division Sheffield Wednesday in the third round.

The first match, on January 6th, saw the sides draw 1-1 at Hillsborough, a scoreline that was repeated at Highbury three days later. The tie then moved to Leicester’s Filbert Street and ended up 2-2, and then 3-3 before Arsenal final got past the Owls 2-0 on January 22nd.

3. Swansea v Havant & Waterlooville (2008)
The Hampshire side were already on one of the greatest cup runs of their history when they were drawn against League One leaders Swansea in the third round of the FA Cup. Havant had been in the competition since the second qualifying round, when they beat Bognor Regis Town, and had put out York and Notts County in the first two rounds proper.

Swansea, meanwhile, had already been given a massive scare in the previous round when they needed a replay to get past Ryman League side Horsham. But the Welsh side hadn’t learned their lesson and, in an ill-tempered game, journeyman striker Rocky Baptiste scored an equaliser for the Hawks three minutes from time to take the tie back to Hampshire.

By the time the sides met in the replay, they knew they were fighting for the right to take on Liverpool. Swansea couldn’t get going and the Hawks ran out 4-2 winners and earned the trip of a lifetime to Anfield in the fourth round, when they twice went in front before eventually going down 5-2.

4. Manchester United v Exeter City (2005)
Alex Inglethorpe had been in the Exeter job for less than a month when his team outplayed Doncaster Rovers in the second round (thanks to a 45-yard strike from Dean Moxey) to set up a dream tie at Old Trafford.

The other Alex – Sir Ferguson – figured his reserves and youth players should have enough in them to comfortably beat the non-league side and duly sent out a team with David Bellion leading the line and Phil Neville captaining the side. But City’s players put on the performance of their lives, with rookie keeper Paul Jones playing a blinder, while Moxey could have won the game at the death but blasted wide.

The replay at Exeter’s St. James’ Park saw the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney take to the field but even then Exeter put up a battling display before eventually going down 2-0.

5. Manchester United v Walthamstow Avenue (1954)
Over fifty years before Exeter’s shock at Old Trafford, amateur side Walthamstow Avenue produced an even better result at the Theatre of Dreams, coming away with a 1-1 draw in the fourth round, thanks to a goal from Jimmy Lewis.

United, managed by Matt Busby, were in transition, despite winning the league the year before. Age was catching up with Johnny Carey and Stan Pearson while Ray Wood and Roger Byrne were still establishing themselves. But despite a predicted cricket score for the English champions, Lewis stunned the crowd by equalising ten minutes from time.

The Walthamstow striker also netted twice in the replay at Highbury, which ended 5-2 to Manchester United. Walthamstow, sadly, only exist in name only today – the club were absorbed by Leytonstone/Ilford in 1988 to become Redbridge Forest (who subsequently merged themselves to become Dagenham & Redbridge).

6. Chesterfield v Droylsden (2008)
This season’s epic encounter between League Two Chesterfield and Conference North side Droyslden was a throwback to the old days of multiple replays that saw some cup ties last nearly a month. The first game was first abandoned because of fog, before the rearranged game finished 2-2. This saw the Spireites allow Droyslden to walk to ball into the net for their second goal, after Jack Lester had accidentally put the league side in front by lobbing the keeper when trying to pass the ball back after the ball had been put out for an injury.

The bizarreness continued in the replay when Droyslden’s floodlights failed with Chesterfield leading 2-0. In the replayed replay, the Bloods came out 2-1 winners but were thrown out of the competition as defender Sean Newton, who scored the winning goal, was actually suspended for the game, having picked up a fifth yellow of the season in the earlier 2-2 draw.

7. Manchester United v Crystal Palace (1990)
The last FA Cup final to go to a replay was an absolute corker that was a showcase for how great the competition could be and would have been harsh on either side had there been a winner on the day.

Palace were competing in their first ever final, while United were chasing their 7th FA Cup. Both sides had finished in the bottom half of the First Division but there was no doubting the quality on offer in this thrilling 3-3 draw. Gary O’Reilly put the Londoners in front, before Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes put United in front. Then Ian Wright, in his first game since a double leg fracture, came off the bench to score twice and put Palace within seven minutes of the trophy before Hughes broke the Eagles’ hearts to level the tie.

The replay wasn’t quite of the same quality and was won with a single goal from United full-back Lee Martin, who hadn’t scored all season.

8. Arsenal v Bedford Town (1956)
Two years after Walthamstow humbled Manchester United, it was the turn of Northampton Alliance side Bedford Town to shock Arsenal, drawing 2-2 at Highbury. The Eagles had a reputation for giant killing, and had beaten a number of league sides in the 50s, including Watford, Exeter City, Oxford United and Norwich City. But the draw at Arsenal ranks as the greatest point in the club’s history.

The replay nearly saw an even bigger shock as Bedford were leading 1-0 until the final four minutes, when Arsenal equalised before the First Division side went on to get another goal in extra time after Bedford had two goals disallowed for offside.

Like Walthamstow, Bedford ceased to exist after their lease was terminated on their ground and the club was wound up in 1982. However, a group of fans banded together to revive the team and a new Bedford Town was reformed in 1989.

9. Wrexham v Blyth Spartans (1978)
Blyth’s FA Cup run in 1978 is one of the great stories of the FA Cup, with the Spartans one of the few non-league teams to reach the fifth round, where they came up against Wrexham. The non-leaguers had got past Burscough, Chesterfield, Enfield and Stoke before facing the Dragons at the Racecourse Ground.

What followed was one of the most controversial equalisers in the history of the competition. Blyth were on course for another giant killing, leading one-nil going into the final minute. In the last minute, Wrexham won a corner that was caught by the Blyth keeper, but the referee ordered the set piece to be retaken because the corner flag had fallen down. Wrexham duly equalised to take the tie to a replay.

The replay at Newcastle’s St. James’ Park saw 42,000 watch Wrexham take a two-nil lead but despite Spartans pulling one back, it wasn’t to be and the it was the Dragons who went on to face Arsenal in the sixth round.

10. Burton Albion v Manchester United (2006)
You’d have thought Fergie would have learned from Manchester United’s humbling at the hands of Exeter the year before. Although his side was stronger than the year before – Silvestre, Saha and Solskjaer were in the line-up – United struggled on a heavy pitch and Burton had the best of the first half.

The non-league side matched United in the second half as well and were unlucky not to get a penalty in the dying moments when Gerard Pique handled in the box, but the Brewers were more than happy with a goalless draw, which took them to Old Trafford.

Although Burton lost the replay 5-0, the cash from both games enabled then-manager Nigel Clough to build the side that now threatens to run away with the Conference this season.

Any other famous FA Cup draws that we’ve missed out? Share your memories in the comments.

For highlights of all FA Cup fourth round ties go to www.itv.com/football.

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