FA Cup Semi Final 1990
Match Report: FA Cup Semi Final: Sunday April 8, 1990.
Crystal Palace 4 Liverpool 3 after extra time.
Crystal Palace: N.Martyn, J.Pemberton, R.Shaw, A.Gray, G.O'Reilly, A.Thorn, P.Barber, G.Thomas, M.Bright, J.Salako, A.Pardew.
Liverpool: B.Grobbelaar, G.Hysen, D.Burrows, G.Gillespie (B.Venison), R.Whelan, A.Hansen, P.Beardsley, R.Houghton, I.Rush (S.Staunton), J.Barnes, S.McMahon.
Crystal Palace had enjoyed an exceptionally kind route through the draw to arrive at the semi finals but now faced the ultimate test. Liverpool were coasting towards yet another league title and were overwhelming favourites to progress to the final.
Palace were having to keep one eye over their shoulder at the other end of the table as they sought to maintain their first division status having won promotion through the play offs the previous season.
They were also missing their bright young centre forward Ian Wright and had already lost both league games against the Reds. Famously they had suffered a 9-0 thrashing at Anfield early on in the campaign. So the signs weren't good although Steve Coppell had rebuilt half his side since that game and had invested heavily in goalkeeper Nigel Martyn. It was expected that the Cornishman would have to prove his worth if Palace were to have any chance.
The first half went almost exactly the way everyone seemed to expect. Palace were almost entirely on the defensive as Liverpool dominated possession. Ronnie Whelan and Steve McMahon immediately seized an iron grip on the midfield and Houghton, Beardsley and Barnes enjoyed consistent possession.
When Palace conceded a soft opener before the quarter hour mark it seemed as though a routine win was in the offing. McMahon was for once sloppy in possession but stormed through to recover the ball instantly from Alan Pardew and then sent a ball straight through the heart of the defence for Ian Rush to run onto and score without fuss.
The flawed decision of Gary O'Reilly to step up for a non-existant offside made the prolific Welshman's job all that easier and Liverpool were in front.
Although there was little to disturb their serenity the apparent ease of their task possibly led Liverpool to take their eye off the ball. While they did not allow Palace a real sight of their goal they seemed happy enough to keep possession across the midfield areas without going for the kill and there was precious little goalmouth incident in the remainder of the half.
It was as though the Reds thought they could score whenever the mood caught them rather than have to press for openings. Whatever the case it was most unlike them and half time came with Liverpool in cruise control but only the one goal to the good.
Half Time: Crystal Palace 0 Liverpool 1
Whether it was a pre-determined plan or whether Coppell had reminded his players that they were in danger of missing out on the biggest day of their careers without even putting up a fight Palace came out flying in the second half and the game was irrevocably changed within moments.
John Pemberton seized possession just inside his own half and set off down the right wing as though fired from a cannon. His startling burst of pace carried him beyond a couple of defenders and his deep cross found the Liverpool backline in disarray.
Phil Barber rose at the far post to knock the centre back across goal, John Salako met it with a stinging volley that cannoned off a bemused defender and fell nicely for Mark Bright to smack past the spinning Bruce Grobbelaar.
The whirlwind start had Villa Park alive and Palace never looked back. Inspired by the goal they flew at their vaunted opponents from all angles, piling men forward at every opportunity and slinging balls into the goalmouth whenever possible.
Liverpool had had to remove Gary Gillespie at the interval because of an injury and his presence was being badly missed as Glenn Hysen looked stunned at the ferocity of the Eagles' attacking and Alan Hansen began to look a man well past his prime. Mark Bright was troubling them both with his pace and physical presence while Salako and Andy Gray bombed forward to cause further problems.
Geoff Thomas was also beginning to look the most influential player in the middle of the park where he was keenly assisted by Pardew and Gray in wresting control from Whelan and McMahon.
Where Liverpool's play had been assured and measured before the break there was quickly a hint of desperation as they attempted to respond to the change in Palace's approach.
Thomas had a great chance to put Palace ahead but saw Grobbelaar pull off a reaction stop from point blank range from his strong shot.
The force was definitely now with the underdogs, however, and they looked particularly threatening from set pieces. Corners, free kicks and long throw ins rained into the Liverpool box and there was never a hint of certainly in the way they were being dealt with.
On 69 minutes Hansen was penalised for a push on Bright. Gray swung in the free kick, Bright climbed to head the ball into the danger area and O'Reilly came steaming in to bundle the ball home from close range.
Liverpool looked to respond but found that chances were not as easy to come by as they might earlier have thought. They were also now somewhat lopsided after having to replace Rush, also injured, with Steve Staunton.
With eight minutes to go they found an equaliser from a free kick of their own. Palace could not clear and the ball fell nicely for McMahon to spear a crisp 20 yard drive into the corner of Martyn's net.
This shifted the impetus once again and within a minute Pemberton was guilty of a clumsy trip on Staunton and Liverpool had a penalty. John Barnes made no mistake with the spot kick and it appeared that Palace's efforts would prove in vain.
Not so. Palace soon had another chance to load the box and Thomas steamed forward twice to send headers towards goal that were both repelled desperately. When the ball stood up again at the far post, however, Gray came storming in above two defenders to head home.
Amid chaotic scenes the Eagles then even had a chance to win the tie when Andy Thorn sent a close range header against the bar with the Liverpool defence in tatters.
Full Time: Crystal Palace 3 Liverpool 3
Extra time could not be as frenetic as the second half had been but Palace continued to more than hold their own. They looked slightly the stronger side and still carried the greater threat whenever they gained a dead ball situation.
Four minutes into the second period this threat was confirmed when Thorn flicked on a Gray corner at the near post and Pardew was the man arriving at the far post to head home what would prove to be the winner.
For sheer drama this had been a semi final without equal in a long time. Liverpool looked stunned at the end while Palace and their supporters obviously celebrated wildly and perhaps slightly in disbelief.
Kenny Dalglish commented that "Football wise we were better than they were but they were better organised at set pieces," but that was missing the point.
Palace had done what they were good at very well while Liverpool had looked as though they believed their own invincibility. A game they had appeared to be completely in control of had very suddenly got completely out of hand and they had never been able to subdue the pace, vigour and sheer spirit of the Palace performance.
Those watching the action live on television might well have felt exhausted themselves but there was more to come as the second semi final followed on immediately and saw Manchester United and Oldham slug out a 3-3 draw.
Not a bad afternoon's viewing!
Full Time (after extra time): Crystal Palace 4 Liverpool 3
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