Wednesday, 12 October 2016

1980s: League Cup Fourth Round shocks

Three years ago I wrote about some League Cup Third Round memories from the 1980s.  So it is probably about time that I moved on to the Fourth Round of the competition. 

This time I am taking a look at some shocks from this stage of the League Cup, including a double dose of despair for Arsenal, the rise of Watford and Oxford, and a rare defeat for Everton in an otherwise fantastic season.

1980/81: Watford v Nottingham Forest

Graham Taylor's Watford were used to causing the odd shock or two in their recent history. A run to the League Cup semi-final in the 1978-79 season had seen the Hornets dispose of Manchester United and Stoke City along the way, before Nottingham Forest ended their adventure. In the 1980-81 competition, Watford would have a chance to extract some revenge over Brian Clough's team, although the main man would be absent for the trip to Vicarage Road, choosing instead to sun himself in Majorca on a family holiday.

Watford had already made headlines in the second round; after losing the first leg 4-0 to First Division Southampton, Taylor's Second Division outfit produced the mother of all comebacks in the second leg, winning 7-1 after extra-time, for an incredible 7-5 aggregate win. "We know it won't be easy," said Clough's stand-in Peter Taylor. "Watford made things hard for us in the semi-finals two seasons ago and their sensational performance against Southampton shows what we can expect."

Taylor's words would prove to be very accurate, as Watford's biggest crowd of the season (22,597) witnessed the dismantling of the double European Cup winners. A Luther Blissett penalty opened the floodgates, and a Ross Jenkins hat-trick saw Watford win 4-1, as a 19-year-old Steve Sutton endured a trying night as Peter Shilton's deputy. "We were murdered for our mistakes at the back," Peter Taylor admitted, as Forest were left to contemplate exiting both Europe and the League Cup in a matter of weeks.

Watford chairman Elton John had paid 70p a minute to listen to the match from Arizona, but his £1.05 a minute outlay from Australia in the quarter final wasn't quite as satisfactory - Watford lost to Coventry after a replay. Yet his club were definitely going places. Promoted to the top flight during the next season, and FA Cup finalists in 1984, the 1980s were heady times for Watford supporters.

1981/82: Barnsley v Man City

Second Division Barnsley had bloodied the nose of First Division Swansea and Brighton earlier in the 1981/82 League Cup, so their win over Manchester City in the Fourth Round didn't come out of the blue. Promoted the previous season under Norman Hunter, Barnsley would finish sixth in the Second Division, and in front of their first all ticket gate for 18 years, they saw off a City, a club that had reached the 1981 FA Cup final.

In a keenly contested match that saw six players booked, a goal from Trevor Aylott after 52 minutes decided the match. Barnsley keeper Bobby Horn pulled off some fine saves, with City's Tommy Hutchison also hitting a post, but Barnsley held on, and come the end of the match their jubilant players performed a lap of honour in celebration.

"AYLOTT OF WOE FOR CITY" declared the headline in the Daily Mirror, as Hunter delivered a damning verdict of the visitors: "There was nothing in City's make-up that scared us before the match, nor a great deal during it."

Barnsley's brave run ended in the quarter finals, but not before they had gone to Anfield and held Liverpool to a goalless draw. Within two years City would be back at Oakwell, only this time for a League match, as their decline in the 1980s continued. At least in December 1983 City left with a point, though.

1982/83: Burnley v Birmingham

The 1982/83 season was one of disappointment and excitement for Burnley followers. Relegated from the Second Division, the club embarked on two thrilling Cup runs, reaching the FA Cup Sixth Round and the last four of the League Cup. Having defeated Coventry in the previous round, hopes were understandably high when Birmingham visited Turf Moor in November 1982.

Birmingham manager Ron Saunders had his hands full before the trip to Lancashire. Two months before he had seeked help to lift a curse on the club - the team had been undefeated in nine before the Burnley match, so maybe it worked for a bit - and prior to the League Cup tie, Saunders was involved in a row with goalkeeper Jeff Wealands.

Wealands had been training with the reserves, but injuries to Jim Blyth and Tony Coton gave him an unexpected chance. Wealands then chose unwisely to state that he was only playing due to "contractual obligations", angering Saunders who dropped him before Wealands could get on the team coach.

Saunders' decision backfired, as the blatantly unfit Coton - playing with four stitches in his left hand - was at fault for all three Burnley goals. After strikes from Paul McGee and Steve Taylor had given Burnley a 2-0 lead, two goals in a minute from Tony Evans and Ian Handysides looked to have spared Coton's blushes. But Jim Hagan was then sent off for the visitors, and another mistake from Coton handed Burnley the tie, when the Birmingham keeper dropped a cross and saw it go over the line via Birmingham defender Colin Brazier.

"After leading 2-0 we panicked a bit and when they pulled back to 2-2 I thought we'd blown it," said Burnley boss Brian Miller. Unfortunately Miller would not be around to enjoy the fruits of Burnley's labour come the next round, as he was sacked on the morning of the quarter final clash away at Tottenham. Burnley would again benefit from an own goal, two in fact, both scored by Graham Roberts, as Tottenham were thrashed 4-1. Liverpool in the semi-final proved one step too far, yet many teams at the time can vouch for the fact that there was no shame in that.

1983/84: Arsenal v Walsall

Possibly not as big a surprise as Walsall's FA Cup victory over Arsenal in 1933, but nevertheless a shock result that pushed Terry Neill closer to the exit door at Highbury. All looked to be going to plan when Stewart Robson gave Arsenal the lead after 30 minutes, albeit against the run of play. Yet a nervous Arsenal were there for the taking, and Walsall took full advantage in the second half.

A Mark Rees equaliser after 61 minutes was just reward for Walsall's display, as Pat Jennings kept Arsenal in the match with a string of fine saves. But it was only delaying the inevitable. When centre back Chris Whyte completely miskicked in his own box, Ally Brown smashed home the winner, sending Walsall through, and Arsenal fans into meltdown.

"I can understand the frustration of the crowd," an under pressure Neill revealed after the match. "I heard them after the game and I accept my share of the responsibility." Fans gathered outside the ground to demand the sacking of Neill, the chants clearly audible in the Arsenal dressing room. New signing Tommy Caton must have wondered what he had walked into.

Ultimately the Walsall result, combined with a slump to 16th in the table, spelt the end for Neill. He paid the price for the frustrating inconsistency of his team, a set of players able to beat Tottenham away in the previous round, but then lose at home to Walsall. There were no such issues for Walsall boss Alan Buckley, however, as he led his team to the League Cup semi-final, where Walsall held their own against Liverpool before bowing out bravely.

1983/84: Oxford v Man Utd

Third Division leaders Oxford United were gaining a reputation for giant killing in the League Cup. Having defeated Newcastle and Leeds in previous rounds, Ron Atkinson and his Manchester United players would have approached the first game at the Manor Ground with trepidation. So when they left with a 1-1 draw, it looked as if the scare had been averted.

Backed by 3,000 travelling supporters, Oxford put in a fine display in the replay at Old Trafford, taking the lead through a Kevin Brock free-kick, only for Frank Stapleton to level matters almost immediately. "Oxford were better than some First Division sides that have been here this season," admitted Atkinson, who would have been less than thrilled when Oxford won the toss to stage the second replay at their ground.

The aforementioned Jeff Wealands would get to play a part in this particular League Cup upset; when Gary Bailey injured himself in training, Wealands was put in a taxi and driven 160 miles to Oxford to answer United's SOS. He performed heroics on the night, which was quite an achievement seeing as Wealands had only slept for three hours due to a new arrival in his family.

Wealands was helpless to prevent United exiting the competition in extra-time, though. After Oxford's George Lawrence had cancelled out Arthur Graham's opener, the teams were forced into another period of extra-time, with Steve Biggins' header finally settling the issue,Wealands appearing to misjudge the effort. On a horrible night for United, the sight of Bryan Robson leaving the ground on crutches did little to ease the pain.

On the same night, Bournemouth's win over Windsor and Eton handed Harry Redknapp's team the chance to face FA Cup holders Manchester United in the Third Round of the competition. Surely lightning couldn't strike twice in one season, though?

1984/85: Everton v Grimsby

File this one under smash and grab. Since Kevin Brock's back pass had given Howard Kendall a lifeline in the League Cup quarter final the previous season, Everton had well and truly turned the corner. FA Cup winners in 1984, Everton were proudly sitting at the top of the League as Grimsby visited Goodison. With Everton on a run of ten consecutive wins in all competitions, surely the Second Division team were making up the numbers.

And so it seemed on the night. Everton simply hammered Grimsby, with shots raining down on the visitors' goal. Keeper Nigel Butch kept his side in the tie, with Chris Nicholl, Chris Seagraves and Kevin Moore all clearing efforts off the line, as somehow Everton failed to score. The match drifted into the last minute and to the stunned amazement of all present, Paul Wilkinson headed in a free-kick and Grimsby were in the last eight.

"It was unbelievable to see the ball in the net," Wilkinson stated. "It was the best moment of my career - fantastic." Obviously Wilkinson's opportunism impressed Kendall, who signed the forward in March 1985. It's a surprise he didn't buy Butch too after his display.

Grimsby would go on to lose to eventual winners Norwich in the next round, but Everton went from strength to strength. Perhaps in their season of 63 matches, losing to Grimsby was a blessing in disguise, especially in the days before squad rotation.

1985/86: Tottenham v Portsmouth

After an encouraging first season under the management of Peter Shreeves, things were not running quite so smoothly for Tottenham in the 1985/86 season. Sat in 13th place in the table, it was already apparent that the cup competitions provided the best hope of success, as Tottenham prepared to welcome Portsmouth to North London. Conversely, Alan Ball's team were sitting pretty at the top of the Second Division, and although Tottenham were expected to progress, Portsmouth would provide a tough examination.

After a drab 0-0 at White Hart Lane, over 1,000 fans were locked out of the replay at Fratton Park, another goalless draw leading to a second replay. Portsmouth won the crucial toss for the choice of venue, so after 210 minutes of attritional football, the teams would meet again on the south coast in December, three weeks after their first date.

It would take until the 44th minute, and just over the four hour mark in the tie, for the deadlock to be broken. Noel Blake's header turned out to be the first and only goal of the five hour marathon, as an inspired Alan Knight repelled everything Tottenham could throw at him. For the England U21 goalkeeper, his display was even more remarkable seeing as he had been involved in a serious car crash just three days before the match, his car written off in the incident.

Oxford United would go on to defeat Portsmouth in the quarter finals, on their way to winning the trophy, and come the end of the season there would be more disappointment for Pompey. Narrowly missing out on automatic promotion, Ball had to take it on the chin and prepare for the following campaign, one that would have a happy ending. There was no such joy for Shreeves, however, who suffered from a prime example of second season syndrome, and was sacked in May 1986.

1988/89: Bradford v Everton

After scraping past Reading and Scunthorpe in previous rounds, the form of Bradford City going into their League Cup match with Everton did not suggest that a shock was on the cards. Struggling in 20th place in Division Two, Bradford had only won once in the League in their last twelve matches, and despite Everton manager Colin Harvey stressing that his team were in for a very difficult game, it didn't seem as if an Everton team undefeated in nine would slip up at Valley Parade.

Ian Ross, writing in The Times, described Bradford's 3-1 win as "a miscarriage of justice", highlighting in his match report how he felt Everton had outplayed Bradford completely and were unlucky. Nevertheless, goals from Mark Leonard and Ian Banks put Bradford 2-0 up after 23 minutes, and when Leigh Palin headed in a third just before the hour, Everton were doomed.

A late Dave Watson goal was a mere consolation, as Everton exited a competition that to this day they still have not won. Bradford would in turn be the subject of a shock themselves, losing at home to Third Division Bristol City in the quarter finals, a contributing factor in manager Terry Dolan losing his job. They may have beaten Everton in the League Cup and Tottenham in the FA Cup, but not being able to do it at Stoke on a Wednesday night was damaging for Dolan, and he suffered the consequences.

1989/90: Oldham v Arsenal

"People will put it down to the plastic, but those goals had nothing to do with it," a delighted Oldham manager Joe Royle explained after his Second Division side had knocked reigning League Champions Arsenal out of the League Cup. Unbeaten at home in 22 matches, Oldham's artificial pitch definitely provided an advantage to the home team, but Arsenal boss George Graham did not use this as an excuse: "It was a totally unacceptable performance by an Arsenal team. We must not take any credit away from Oldham - they were tremendous."

Arsenal had been on the ropes in the first half, somehow holding out until the 45th minute before Andy Ritchie fired Oldham in front. The hair-dryer treatment at half-time obviously had an impact, though, with Oldham keeper Andy Rhodes pulling off saves from Michael Thomas, Lee Dixon and Niall Quinn. Yet it would be Oldham who scored the all-important second goal through Nick Henry, and when Ritchie added another - leading to the Daily Mirror "Rags to Ritchie's" headline - a late Quinn reply did little to mask Arsenal's embarrassment.

"Up to now, we've had Cup walks, not Cup runs," stated the hero of the night, as another Oldham striker dominated the back pages, after Bunn's six goals in the previous round against Scarborough. Ritchie's throw away remark would need a slight revision as the season developed; Oldham embarked on two Cup runs that developed into marathons, losing the League Cup final to Nottingham Forest, and taking Fergie's Manchester United to two matches in an epic FA Cup semi-final.

After Oldham, Arsenal lost their next League game at Liverpool, but by Christmas had moved back to the top of the table. But five defeats in the next eight signalled the end of their title defence and defeat at QPR in the FA Cup saw any hopes of a trophy fade. And they couldn't even blame QPR's plastic pitch on that loss, seeing as it had been ripped up in 1988.

1 comment:

  1. Jeff Wealands certainly had a couple of interesting match-day experiences in his career :-)