Pre-season is always difficult for York City fans. You go looking for the fixtures and are constantly confronted by league tables that have us rooted to the bottom and ages to go until anyone can do anything about it.
The man charged with doing something about that at the earliest opportunity is Nigel Worthington, appointed last season with ten games remaining. Instntly, he began the process of disassembling what went before, undoing the things that made us so easy on the eye and which drew plaudits from people who know what they’re talking about. That process has continued into the close season. Out have gone the ball-players, the multi-faceted passers of the ball. Instead, we need more tall players. That, friends, is tactical genius of the first water. After all, the best player in the world right now is a giant of a man, and the greatest of all time a 6’8″ colossus.
As well as the short-arses, out go the versatile. Worthington has said that he wants players to play one position and that’s it, which I think is short-sighted. Finances dictate a smaller squad than might be ideal and players capable of playing several roles are invaluable in that scenario. Moreover, it betrays a lack of trust in his players to be capable of filling other roles, of adapting to something different. It all ties in to a style of football from a bygone era despite Worthington’s protestations that he’s not a long-ball manager in the face of what we’ve all seen so far. I imagine him happening across footage of the 1974 Dutch team on a classic sports channel and being utterly horrified, turning off in disgust. ‘How dare they, the careless, casual mavericks. None of that for Nigel, thank you very much.’
That said, we did manage to sign an Estonian international winger, Sander Puri who was with St Mirren last season. It’s a pleasing novelty to see our wee club mentioned on equal terms alongside the like of Legia Warsaw, Lierse, Augsburg and Chicago Fire and is actually quite exciting. Back comes Richard Cresswell which will please the home support. Before the season is two months old, however, he turns 36 so what he can actually offer is open to question. Certainly not 90 minutes per game. The other signings are relatively unremarkable and in keeping with what Worthington has been saying – height, specialism, physicality. A couple of them – Ryan Bowman and Lewis Montrose – come with decent enough reputations at the sort of level at which we find ourselves, but I’d be lying if I professed any great knowledge of their careers to date.
All of which may lead to the conclusion that I approach this season not with the expected sense of excitement and anticipation, but with a degree of ennui surrounding everything. This is true. The brief us bloggers get from WAGU! asks us to describe our hopes and fears for the upcoming season. Mine are quite simple. My hope is that I’m wrong – wrong about Worthington’s methods, practices, theories and style of play. My fear is that I’m not.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
In early March, seventeenth place and four points above the relegation zone is cause for panic and a sacking. By late April, seventeenth place and four points above the relegation zone became apparent cause for celebration.
York survived at the end of their first season back in league football after eight years away. Needing a point away at Dagenham on the final day, they won 1-0. Job done, priority number one achieved. It was always in their own hands given the fixtures in the run-in, but credit is due. A few weeks ago, it looked like the best hope was to be marginally less rubbish than a couple of sides in a similar position, but while others could scrape a few points together, the last couple of weeks saw York turn into something like a model of consistency, stringing three straight wins together to pull away from danger.
So all’s well that ends well then? In issue zero of The Blizzard, Sid Lowe interviewed Juanma Lillo, the coaching guru who was so much the mentor and inspiration to Pep Guardiola. It’s a wonderful interview, a rich, wide-ranging piece that covers vast swathes of territory (Issue zero still available in digital formats at The Blizzard’s website – http://www.theblizzard.co.uk/product/issue-zero-digital-download/ – and worth it for that article, let alone the rest of it). One of the key passages I took away from it followed the question “Are we wrong to judge the process based on results, even though the process intends to achieve the result?”
“Human beings tend to venerate what finished well, not what was done well. We attack what ended up badly, not what was done badly. The media does that. And beyond the possibility that maybe you don’t have the capacity to judge whether the methodological process is the correct one, it’s flawed to judge on those grounds.”
At no point have processes been given due consideration at York. Win games, it’s all rosy. Lose games, the sky is falling in on our heads. For weeks towards the end of the Gary Mills reign, voices in the crowd were urging “just lump it” and “get a big man up front”. In the games against Accrington and Southend recently, similar voices were insisting that we “get it on the floor and bloody pass it”. For the last ten games, York have been more direct, playing low-percentage football but doing enough to garner the points that have ensured survival. It ought to be something to if not celebrate, then at least be pleased about. It doesn’t feel that way and that’s because it all feels so aimless, on and off the field. What is the plan? I do not wish to venerate what finished well when I don’t believe in the process behind it.
The planning for next season appears to have begun in earnest, but the whole thing is rather confused. First, we were told that Jason Walker was first out of the door with Matty Blair thought to be close behind. Then we get news that the board are in discussions with Nigel Worthington over continuing as manager before Worthington announcing the retained list. If he’s not actually signed on for next season, who is making these decisions? How can any plan be made until you have someone with a plan to implement? It’s all a bit muddled and hardly sounds like the start of an era of doing things well, of getting the processes right as Lillo insists.
Walker leaving looks significant. A diminutive front-man, he immediately looked on the outer once Worthington arrived. He’s a fair leap on him, but was always at a disadvantage when competing for long, high balls forward. His strengths lie in linking play with his back to goal, receiving the ball to feet and bringing others in. That’s clearly not going to be the case from here. See also Blair, Paddy McLaughlin and Scott Kerr; midfielders who like to knock it around on the deck. Down with that sort of thing. That the last vestiges of Millsology are the first things to be abandoned marks a definite full stop at the end of a chapter.
It appears to be the end of ambition at the club. Maybe that’s realistic. After all, the vast majority of the club’s history has been in the bottom division, and more often than not near the bottom of that. Financially, we remain a minnow in the division. Maybe it’s enough just to survive at this level, to be just like every other small, northern club. Maybe we’ve got to forget everything, accept where we are and that it’s so unlikely that we’d ever do well any higher up so what’s the point in trying. Maybe we’re not a club big enough to listen to the likes of Juanma Lillo and it’s only the outcome that’s important and not the process that delivers it.
The end of ambition, that is, of playing progressive football. When Worthington was appointed, however, chairman Jason McGill spoke of exactly that. “I’m sure all the fans will think this is a great coup for the club, and shows our ambition”, he told local news. Well, perhaps. After all, Worthington has coached in the Premier League, at international level. And yet, as Tor-Kristian Karlsen – a man who has been a scout, chief executive and sporting director at clubs around Europe – wrote in the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2013/apr/03/paolo-di-canio-sunderland-manager-research) in April, “The reasoning rarely goes beyond “he did a good job at x, so let’s have him”. Rush, panic, lack of preparation and poor advice eventually lead to equally unfortunate sporting consequences.” Like Lillo, Karlsen suggests that there’s a process to be applied here in the same way as there is on the playing side. The ambition in this instance seems to be more about employing someone whose CV has ostensibly impressive-sounding entries on it rather than assessing the next step and appointing appropriately on that basis and in terms of the resources available.
Maybe we’ve got to learn to love the hoof, clap if it works, shrug if it doesn’t and apply no critical thinking to the methodology – or lack thereof – behind it. Maybe we’ve got no choice, but it is my fundamental belief that if the answer is Nigel Worthington and the style of football we’ve seen from him so far, then the question is flawed.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
Nobody wants to lose 4-1 at home. Nobody plans to – Europol investigation notwithstanding – and nobody goes out with that intention in mind, but it can and does happen and there are generally reasons for it. The problem is that in the febrile and fickle world of the football supporter, where half a dozen clubs have offed their manager in the space of a couple of weeks, calls for a change at the top are often the first resort of the disgruntled fan.
Unfortunately, York City did lose 4-1 at home last Saturday. It wasn’t pleasant and the grumbling began instantly, in the ground, on the radio and online. Gary Mills has lost the plot, apparently, and if City are to prevent an early return to the Conference then he has to go. That seems to be the prevailing opinion expressed by a noisy minority. It’s also rubbish.
City actually started pretty well at the weekend, but went behind in the 23rd minute, Kevin Ellison nodding down a right-wing cross for Lewis Alessandra to sweep home. City stuck to their game plan and were level five minutes later from the penalty spot after a foul given for holding at a corner. And from there on, there appeared little danger to the City goal. Trouble is, there’s not a huge amount of danger at the other end. With quarter of an hour to go, a hopeful ball down the channels should have been easy for City keeper Michael Ingham to deal with. Instead, he missed his attempted clearance and allowed Ellison to nip in and restore Morecambe’s lead. With time ticking down, City launched everything forward with the almost inevitable consequence of leaving themselves wide open at the back. Against a decent counter-attacking side like Morecambe, it was a gamble and one that didn’t pay off. Twice in the last few minutes, they broke the City siege and found nobody at home and, twice, substitute Jack Redshaw profited with goals.
Taken purely as a result, it is of course dispiriting, but the nature of the defeat was not in any way indicative of structural flaws in the way City go about their football. You can’t legislate for a goalkeeping brain-fart, especially from one of the better keepers in the division, and the two late goals were always going to be at least a possibility when everybody else was up at the other end of the field. The team is short of goals, this is clear. Ashley Chambers hasn’t played since October, but still sits second on the goal-scoring charts – one behind Jason Walker – and fellow forward Michael Coulson, who had a great start to the season, damaged knee ligaments in September and is out for most, if not all, of the rest of the season. Alex Rodman came in on loan from Aldershot to fill in on the left side of the front three and it would be fair to say he’s not been a resounding success, but to heap blame on the forwards alone is to miss the point.
Defensive pragmatism blunted the attacking intent of the full-backs which, in a 4-3-3 system, is absolutely crucial. The result has been a dearth of chances created and while the forwards haven’t been converting too many, they’re largely feeding on scraps and it’s difficult to be over-critical. Steps have been taken to improve the supply lines by getting Curtis Obeng in on loan from Swansea to play at right-back, but the hunt for a left-back during January proved fruitless. There appears to be money there to bring players in, particularly after moving other players on, but City are still operating on a budget that even by League 2 standards cannot be regarded as anything other than small.
Recruitment in the summer wasn’t huge either and this was understandable. Over the previous couple of seasons, a winning mentality had been cultivated and the group of players that got out of the Conference got first chance to consolidate the club back in the Football League. It not only seemed fair, but also the right thing to do. However, for a lot of those players, this is their first experience of league football. Perhaps the pace is getting to them. Perhaps other teams, now that there’s a lot more footage available, have been able to work City out a bit more than was happening in the division below.
Either way, it’s more a series of minor things that just aren’t quite coming together rather than something that indicates the need for fundamental and structural change. It’s not a time to get rid of the gameplan – despite plenty of calls for a big lump of a striker to chuck on up front and reverting to a 1970s lump-it-and-hope, low-percentage brand of football that’s best left in the distant past, the brand of football that got us relegated out of the league in the first place – or the manager. When the loan window opens there may need to be personnel changes and Gary Mills remains the man to do that and to see City into the mid-table obscurity that everyone at the club would have bitten your arm off for five years ago.
Feel free to disagree, but you’re wrong.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
Seven years and eleven months ago, York City were about to embark on a run of twenty league games of which they won precisely none of them. That is relegation form in anyone’s book and, lo, it came to pass.
Promoted out of the Conference playing attractive football and with the manager’s preference for a 4-3-3, you’d think that would appease fans, even if it wasn’t quite working. But no. This is football after all with all the fickleness that implies.
On Saturday, York were poor against an AFC Wimbledon side that has found this season a bit of a struggle so far. The first half was grim as neither side got going and it was, consequently, one of the dullest 45 minutes of football you’re likely to see. At least, we consoled ourselves during the interval, we can’t possibly play as badly in the second half. Oh, but we could.
A hopeful ball over the top caught the defence flat-footed and allowed Byron Harrison to open the scoring. Stacy Long added a second with ten minutes to go which sealed the win, so unlikely were York to get back on terms at that stage, before Jack Midson added a third from the penalty spot in the dying moments after skipper Chris Smith caught Charlie Strutton’s heels when clean through on goal. Wimbledon might have added more misery with Michael Ingham making one great save and Strutton somehow managing to clear the crossbar with a downward header that looped up and into the visting fans behind the goal. There weren’t so many of the home fans left inside Bootham Crescent to see it.
Home form hasn’t been good with just two wins from nine so far compared with just one defeat on the road. As such, the majority of the support are a bit starved of winning football this season. Add in that a significant number of the support this season didn’t see us over the last eight years in non-league football – crowds last season were around the 2500 mark compared to nearly 4000 so far this term. Comments around the ground that I heard laid the blame on “too much passing” and the remedy identified as “stop all this tippy-tappy nonsense”. This is patently ridiculous, of course.
The manager, Gary Mills, has clearly heard and/or seen some of the same things as in the local paper, he’s quoted as saying “Why would I change a formation that has won us lots of games and got us promoted?” which is a germane argument, one I also subscribe to. He went on to say “I’ve never heard such rubbish if people want us to change because we’ve lost one game of football. Over the last 12 months, the system has seen us play entertaining football and made us hard to beat. Saturday was our first defeat in seven games and the first time we haven’t created a lot of chances, but that doesn’t make us a bad team or me a bad manager. I got boos because we lost one game. I’m glad I wasn’t here when the team was losing every week before I was manager. It must have been horrendous.” Again, it is nigh-on impossible to disagree.
Mills has been a breath of fresh air at the club. Since relegation to the fourth tier back in 1999, the club really wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t until Martin Foyle arrived in November 2008 and started the enormous task of turning a failing club round that we’ve had anything like optimism on the terraces.
I started watching the club 30 years ago. It was a good time to get started as, a couple of years later, Denis Smith’s swashbuckling side scored 96 goals and won Division Four with a then-record 101 points, the first club to break three figures. The football was excellent and, though I didn’t realise at the time, I was being spoiled rotten. Bobby Saxton’s disastrous reign and relegation back to the bottom tier four years later was something of a reality check, but there was another peak in the mid-1990s with a first ever Wembley appearance and promotion after a penalty shoot-out against Crewe. League Cup wins over Manchester United and Everton followed which certainly gave the club a boost in publicity terms, but we quickly reverted to type. What I’m saying here is that for perhaps 22 of the 30 years I’ve been watching the club, we’ve not been up to much. For the last two years, however, that has not been the case.
Under Mills, we play nice stuff. We try to play football. It’s attractive, entertaining and clearly gets people through the gates. It’s good to watch and while no system is a panacea – ask Barcelona about their loss at Parkhead recently – playing the way we do will ensure we will win more games than we lose. No it won’t work every time and clearly didn’t against Wimbledon, but if you take even half a step back and see what is being attempted, then it shouldn’t be too hard to shrug off that defeat and look to the next game (that next game being a Cup replay against… AFC Wimbledon on the evening of the day I write this). People suggesting otherwise either have short memories or didn’t see us under Saxton or Colin Walker or Chris Brass. Now is not a time to panic and throw away everything the last two years have brought us.
The system, the plan is not the thing that’s at fault and hiring a big lump of a centre forward, reverting to two banks of four and hoofing it long is not the remedy. The remedy is to keep plugging away at what we’re doing. Clearly some players are struggling for a bit of form and there may need to be some personnel changes, but it’s tinkering in the margins rather than wholesale changes that are required.
As a support-base, we’ve long had a reputation for negativity – hardly surprising when most of the time we’re rubbish – but for the first time in 15 years we’ve got a manager worth believing in. It would be a disaster for the football club if chelping about his ideas on playing the game were to drive him away. In Mills I still trust.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
Ten games, it is often said, is when you judge a campaign. Well that’s how many York City have played in their first season back in the Football League after ending their eight-year absence by beating Luton at Wembley in the Conference play-off final back in May. City sit 14th after those ten games – won three, drawn four, lost three with a zero goal difference; about as neutral as it’s possible to get. Inconsistency has been the watchword so far.
Manager Gary Mills is a week away from marking two years with the club and since his arrival the team’s style has been based around passing football, quick pressing without the ball and a very definite 4-3-3 shape. This isn’t a 4-5-1 masquerading as an attacking line-up – it’s a genuine three up top based around key man Jason Walker, who cost a princely £60,000 from Luton, through the middle.
Walker has taken some criticism from fans for not being prolific, but that’s to misunderstand his role. Yes he’s a goalscorer, but so much more than that. As the fulcrum of the attack, it’s up to him to hold it and bring others into play and also to drag defenders out of position – out wide or further forward than they’d ideally wish to be. It’s telling that the wider men in the front three – most notably Ashley Chambers and Michael Coulson – are profiting from the work Walker does with half the team’s goals between them.
The problem lies deeper than that. Goals conceded were a major problem, even in games that didn’t end in defeat. Just a couple of weeks ago, the only sides with a higher number in the A column were right down at the bottom end of the table. Injuries were partly to blame, and the relatively high-profile signing of Clarke Carlisle followed as a result and he was thrown straight in. With little football under his belt, he had a shaky start, but grew into games alongside the dependable Chris Smith. Carlisle has been found out in terms of pace on occasion and the return to fitness of Chris Doig has seen the former Countdown champion relegated to the bench.
Despite the recent defensive improvement there is still a feeling of fragility at the back. That improvement, though, has come at a cost. In a 4-3-3, it’s the full-backs that need to provide the width and in trying to stop leaking goals, their attacking instincts have been curbed somewhat. It’s a difficult balancing act that Mills is still trying to get right. Last season, it was an easier act to balance with James Meredith deployed at left-back. He was ideal in the role, but left the club for Bradford after his contract came to an end. He’s not been replaced with another attack-minded player, someone who is going to go beyond the last defender and deliver into the box. Moreover, one of the midfield three has been tasked solely with providing a screen in front of the back four and that man has been former Wales U21 international Danny Parslow, a centre-back by trade. While he does the job he’s been given to the best of his abilities, he’s not the most dynamic of operators in that area and the return of club captain Scott Kerr, who would normally assume those duties while also offering more going forward, cannot come soon enough. Kerr missed the run-in last season after suffering a cruciate ligament injury and is due to come back shortly.
As it stands, it’s fairly clear that City are not going up this season. Neither are they going to be in relegation trouble. And that’s absolutely fine. It’s the first season back, the club might be stable but isn’t exactly over-flowing with cash and consolidation is not an ugly word or concept. The system works, by and large, and the football is entertaining, as evidenced by the encouraging numbers coming through the turnstiles every week. With key players – primarily Kerr and long-serving centre-back Dave McGurk – to come back from long-term injury, things look OK. Find those elusive marauding full-backs – and convince them that the Minster city is the place for them – and it’ll look positively rosy.
So ten games in, York are doing OK – nothing more, nothing less. Thirty-six games from now, if they’re in the same position as they are now, that will be absolutely fine. This season is about re-establishing the club as a Football League side and anything more than that is a bonus. Besides, after last season’s double trip to Wembley, a little bit of mid-table mediocrity might make for a nice change of pace.
Written by John Dobson, We Are Going Up’s York City Blogger
The League Cup has, in recent years, been written off by some observers as a second rate competition which creates unwanted congestion on an already hectic fixture calendar. However many Football League clubs have enjoyed successful runs in the competition, with some reaching the semi-finals, the final or even winning the cup itself on occasion.
It is no secret that many of the country’s biggest clubs use the League Cup as an opportunity to play the reserves or field their youngsters, which can lead to some unexpected results and allow lower ranked sides to reach the latter stages of the tournament.
Last week Dougie Freedman’s Crystal Palace upset the odds by defeating Manchester United 2-1 at Old Trafford to reach the semi-finals – where they will meet fellow Championship side Cardiff City after they beat Premier League Blackburn Rovers in the last eight. Since the League Cup’s inception in the 1960/61 season there have been plenty of other upsets and this week Toppo’s Top Ten looks at some of the most memorable….
10: Sheffield Wednesday 1 Manchester United 0 1991
Wembley has seen its fair share of cup final upsets down the years and the 1991 League Cup Final was no different. Manchester United went into the game as FA Cup holders and huge favourites as they faced Sheffield Wednesday, who would go on to win promotion from the Second Division that season.
Former United manager Ron Atkinson was the Owls’ manager, pitted against Alex Ferguson, the man who replaced him in the Old Trafford hotseat five years before. It would be Big Ron who would be smiling by the end of 90 minutes as a ferocious volley from midfielder John Sheridan settled the game. The second tier outfit pulled off a shock by beating United to claim the League Cup for the first time in their history.
9: Norwich City 0 Milton Keynes Dons 4 2011
Premier League new boys Norwich City crashed out of this season’s Carling Cup in the first round with a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to an MK Dons side two divisions below them. Canaries manager Paul Lambert made eleven changes for this match and his side fell behind on 21 minutes to a goal from former Norwich player Luke Chadwick. Striker Sam Baldock, in one of his final Dons appearances before his transfer to West Ham United, doubled the lead seven minutes later with a powerful strike having been played in by Stephen Gleeson.
In the second half Karl Robinson’s side extended their lead further as Chadwick combined with Dean Bowditch before netting his second of the game and substitute Daniel Powell capitalised on some poor home defending to make it four on 67 minutes. A memorable win at Carrow Road for MK Dons which is Lambert’s heaviest defeat during his two year tenure as Norwich boss.
8: Queens Park Rangers 3 West Bromwich Abion 2 1967
By 1967 the League Cup had been running for seven years but this year’s final was the first to be played at Wembley – up until then the final consisted of a two-legged affair with a match played at the home ground of each team. The first final underneath the Twin Towers proved to be a cracker, as First Division side West Bromwich Albion met Third Division Queens Park Rangers, playing at Wembley for the first time.
The favourites lived up to their pre-match billing as as they took a 2-0 lead into half-time thanks to former QPR winger Clive Clark’s brace. However the Hoops fought back in twenty second half minutes as Roger Morgan scored with a header to make it 2-1, then a great individual run and strike from Rodney Marsh equalised. Rangers eventually won 3-2 thanks to Mark Lazarus’ late goal and in doing so they became the first club from the third tier to win a major trophy.
7: Southend United 1 Manchester United 0 2006
Manchester United won the Carling Cup in the 2005/06 season and were looking to reach the quarter-finals the following campaign. In their way were Championship side Southend United and a capacity crowd packed into Roots Hall to witness this fourth round encounter.
Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a United side including ten internationals in the hope of avoiding an upset with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney on the field for the whole 90 minutes, but they would end the night humbled. On 27 minutes Southend frontman Freddy Eastwood lined up a free-kick some distance from goal before running up and unleashing an unstoppable, bending drive which beat Tomas Kuszczak in the United goal to put Southend a goal up.
Despite United pouring forward in search of an equaliser, Southend goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan kept them at bay with a string of great saves while Eastwood threatened on the break at the other end. However the Premier League outfit could not find a way through and it was Southend who knocked out the holders, progressing to the last eight of the competition.
6: Chelsea 1 Burnley 1 (Burnley win 5-4 on penalties) 2008
In the 2008/09 season Championship side Burnley reached the semi-finals of the Carling Cup, where they were knocked out by top-flight Tottenham Hotspur over two legs. On their way to the last four, Burnley beat Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Fourth Round in a dramatic penalty shootout.
Didier Drogba looked to set Chelsea on their way to the next round as expected when he finished expertly having been played in by Frank Lampard in the first half. However after the break Burnley fought their way back into the game and equalised through Ade Akinbiyi – sending the 6,000 travelling Clarets fans mad.
The game went into extra-time where Chelsea had a goal disallowed and missed several opportunities to win, but with no goal forthcoming the tie would be settled on penalties. After five-spot kicks each, both sides missed one and scored four before Michael Duff converted Burnley’s sixth. Jon Obi Mikel stepped up next for Chelsea and Clarets goalkeeper Brian Jensen made himself a hero, diving full length to his right to palm the effort away and send the second tier club into the next round.
5: Liverpool 1 Grimsby Town 2 2001
In the 2001/02 season, Division One side Grimsby Town pulled off a famous result at Anfield, knocking Worthington Cup holders Liverpool out of the competition in the third round. After a goalless 90 minutes, the match headed into extra-time and a David Beharall handball gave the hosts the chance to go in front from the penalty spot eleven minutes in. Gary McAllister slotted home the spot-kick, but in the second period of extra-time Grimsby hit back.
Centre-back Marlon Broomes volleyed a 113th minute equaliser in front of the travelling Grimsby support and, in amazing fashion it was the visitors who would take the lead late on. Liverpool were pushing for the winner but Town went up the other end where, from 35 yards out, Phil Jevons unleashed a piledriver which flew into the top corner of Chris Kirkland’s net. Jevons, a boyhood Liverpool fan, had joined the Mariners from Everton in pre-season and instantly became a hero at Blundell Park with an incredible 120th minute strike.
4: Arsenal 1 Walsall 2 1983
Fifty years before this 1983 Milk Cup fourth round tie, Walsall stunned Arsenal by beating them in the FA Cup and they would go on to do something similar at Highbury. At the time Arsenal were in trouble both on and off the pitch, with fans calling for manager Terry Neill to be sacked, however a home cup tie against Third Division Walsall should have provided some respite.
Things looked to be going to plan as Stewart Robson put the Gunners ahead just after the half hour, although Walsall were enjoying most of the play. The Saddlers got their reward fifteen minutes into the second half as Mark Rees netted after Ally Brown’s shot came out to him for the equaliser. Then with five minutes to go, the underdogs took the lead as David Preece’s left-wing cross was not dealt with by the Arsenal defence and the ball fell to Brown who slammed it high into the net to win the tie.
A great result for Walsall and their player-manager Alan Buckley as his side progressed to the quarter-finals. This result spelled the end of Neill’s tenure as Arsenal boss, paving the way for George Graham to take charge.
3: Liverpool 2 Northampton Town 2 (Northampton win 4-2 on penalties) 2010
In the third round of last season’s Carling Cup, Northampton Town pulled off arguably the shock of the tournament by knocking out Premier League Liverpool at Anfield. Reds boss Roy Hodgson made many changes to his side, picking mainly fringe players but they got off to a good start as Milan Jovanovic gave them the lead on nine minutes.
In the second half a Cobblers free-kick was knocked down to Billy McKay who rifled it into the roof of the net as the Town fans behind the goal celebrated wildly and that was how the scores remained after 90 minutes. Northampton, 17th in League Two and three divisions below their opponents, took the lead in extra-time when the ball broke to Michael Jacobs who stuck it into the top corner in front of the Kop. As the visitors sensed a famous victory, David Ngog equalised for Liverpool with four minutes left, to the relief of Hodgson and the Reds fans inside Anfield.
The match went to penalties and in the teaming rain, Town striker Stephen Guinan and Ngog missed their penalties before Nathan Eccleston hit Liverpool’s fifth against the crossbar to hand Northampton a chance of victory. Under great pressure, Abdul Osman stepped forward and sent Brad Jones the wrong way to clinch Town’s place in the fourth round – a great achievement from Ian Sampson’s side.
2: Manchester United 0 York City 3 1995
It is a great achievement for many sides to come away from Old Trafford with a win – for a fourth tier side to do it is quite remarkable, especially by the margin York City defeated Manchester United in the second round of the League Cup in 1995.
Alex Ferguson brought in some of his fringe players – including David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Phil Neville – alongside proven players like Ryan Giggs and Gary Pallister but they could not stop their visitors crusing to victory. Alan Little’s York took the lead through Paul Barnes’ deflected strike and in the second half Barnes doubled it from the penalty spot, before Tony Barras made it three from a header in front of a stunned Old Trafford crowd.
In the return leg United fielded a stronger lineup and levelled the tie – but conceded one goal to be knocked out 4-3 on aggregate in one of York’s greatest ever victories.
1: Swindon Town 3 Arsenal 1 1969
One of the greatest upsets in any English cup competition. The 1969 League Cup final pitted Third Division Swindon Town against First Division Arsenal, under the stewardship of Bertie Mee, who would lead them to the League and FA Cup double two years later. However Danny Williams’ Swindon were out to cause an upset in the showpiece match at Wembley.
It was the Robins who took a shock lead through Roger Smart after a mix-up in the Arsenal defence left goalkeeper Bob Wilson stranded, presenting Smart with an easy finish. Swindon held on until the 86th minute when goalkeeper Peter Downsborough failed to clear the ball and Bobby Gould punced to head home the equaliser and seemingly dash the underdog’s hopes of an upset. However in extra-time Swindon had the better of the play and regained the lead as Don Rogers netted after a corner was not cleared by the Gunners.
In the second period of extra-time Arsenal went forward in search of another equaliser but lost the ball and Swindon broke on the counter-attack. The ball was played through to Rogers who, in acres of space, carried the ball towards goal before cooly rounding Wilson to score and make it 3-1. Arsenal could not find a way back and it was Swindon who pulled off a famous victory, lifting major silverware for the first time in their history.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
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