The best FA Cup semi finals of all time – ranked

You can gush over competitions like the Champions League all you like, but the FA Cup will always have a special place in the heart of most football fans.

Over the years we’ve been treated to some absolutely incredible FA Cup ties and the semi-final stage in particular has thrown up some classics.

With teams just one win away from securing their place at the showpiece event of the world’s oldest football competition, the drama and passion on display is at a level you’ve possibly never seen before.

So, here’s 90min’s ranking of the ten greatest FA Cup semi-finals of all time, all the way down to the best of them all…

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Coventry vs Leeds may not be a fixture that jumps off the page as a classic but their meeting back in 1987 was exactly that.

David Rennie handed Leeds the lead at Hillsborough before Micky Gynn’s scuffed effort levelled the scores in the second half.

The Sky Blues edged ahead courtesy of FA Cup specialist Keith Houchen’s strike ten minutes from time, though their joy was short-lived as substitute Keith Edwards made it 2-2 late on.

Dave Bennett was on hand to fire home in the first half of extra-time and Leeds had no response as Coventry progressed to the final where they triumphed – again with a 3-2 scoreline – over Tottenham.

Alan Cork and Carlton Palmer during Wednesday's win over city rivals United in 1993Alan Cork and Carlton Palmer during Wednesday's win over city rivals United in 1993
Alan Cork and Carlton Palmer during Wednesday’s win over city rivals United in 1993 | Getty Images/Getty Images

Is that not just the most 90s photo you’ve ever seen? What happened to balding footballers? They need to make a comeback.

Anyway, Sheffield neighbours Wednesday and United went head to head at Wembley in 1993. Chris Waddle was pulling the strings in the centre of the pitch for the Owls and his superb free-kick opened the scoring with barely two minutes on the clock.

Alan Cork levelled the scoring on the stroke of half-time and with neither side able to find a winner the game headed for extra-time.

Both goalkeepers were in inspired form as the illusive winning goal looked like it would never come, but Mark Bright’s clinical header meant Wednesday came out on top in the Steel City derby with a 2-1 win.

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That picture of Ryan Giggs’ chest rug brings back some memories, doesn’t it?

Arguably even more iconic than the goal itself (which wasn’t bad by the way), the Welshman pounced on Patrick Vieira’s loose ball in extra-time to book Manchester United’s place in the 1999 FA Cup final – which they obviously won.

Even before Giggs’ solo goal we’d been treated to an absolute barnstormer, with Dennis Bergkamp cancelling out David Beckham’s opener, while Arsenal had a goal disallowed and United were reduced to ten men.

Bergkamp had the chance to win the game in the final minute of normal time but was denied by Peter Schmeichel from the penalty spot in what proved to be a classic FA Cup semi-final.

Neil Webb of Manchester United and Earl Barrett of OldhamNeil Webb of Manchester United and Earl Barrett of Oldham
Neil Webb of Manchester United and Earl Barrett of Oldham | Simon Bruty/Getty Images

Manchester United faced second tier side Oldham at Maine Road in 1990 and it turned out to be a game people of a certain age will never forget.

The Red Devils were stunned early on as Earl Barrett put the minnows ahead, though second-half goals from Bryan Robson and Neil Webb looked to have secured United’s passage through to the final.

However, Ian Marshall’s goal ten minutes from time sent the game into extra-time, and after Danny Wallace put United ahead again, Oldham came back for a second time thanks to Roger Palmer’s late goal.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side won the replay 2-1 after Mark Robins’ extra-time goal and they went on to lift their seventh FA Cup at Wembley.

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If Ryan Giggs’ goal against Arsenal is one of the most iconic FA Cup semi-final strikes then Paul Gascogine’s free kick against the same opposition is up there with it.

Gazza’s piece of magic for Spurs was made even better by his schoolkid-esque celebration, before a typical poacher’s goal from Gary Lineker doubled Tottenham’s lead.

Gunners frontman Alan Smith halved the deficit with a towering second-half header, but Spurs clinched their place in the final as David Seaman allowed Lineker’s effort to slip through his hands.

Terry Venables’ men would beat Nottingham Forest in the final just a month later.

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You’ll notice Spurs have been in their fair share of dramatic FA Cup semi-finals throughout this list.

One of the more recent classics came in 2017 as Antonio Conte’s Chelsea made the short trip to Wembley to face Mauricio Pochettino Tottenham.

Willian handed the Blues the lead with a stunning free kick before Harry Kane equalised. Dele Alli’s wonderful linkup play with Kane saw Tottenham grab second shortly after Willian had handed Chelsea the lead from the penalty spot, though it would be Conte’s side who would have the last laugh.

Eden Hazard’s introduction changed the game as his left-footed drive found the bottom corner to give Chelsea the lead and they saved the best for last as Nemanja Matic’s piledriver secured a 4-2 win.

Spurs again.

This time it’s a clash all the way back in 1962 as Matt Busby’s Manchester United side were knocked out of the competition by Tottenham.

Jimmy Greaves opened the scoring with a left-footed effort before Cliff Jones’ header doubled Tottenham’s lead midway through the first half.

United’s David Herd offered late hope as he made the score 2-1, though
Terry Medwin’s late strike secured Tottenham’s path through to the final.

How can a game that ends 5-3 not be entertaining?

Scottish frontman Alex Dawson was the hero of the hour for United as he bagged a hat-trick, while Shay Brennan and Bobby Charlton completed the scoring for the Red Devils at Hillsborough.

Fulham put up a spirited fight as Arthur Stevens, Trevor Chamberlain and Roy Dwight all got themselves on the scoresheet, but it wasn’t to be for the west Londoners as United progressed to the final where they were beaten by a Nat Lofthouse inspired Bolton Wanderers.

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When Crystal Palace came up against a Liverpool side who seven months prior had smashed them 9-0, nobody gave the Eagles much of a chance.

The clash looked like going to plan as Ian Rush handed Liverpool the lead, though Mark Bright struck back to bag an unlikely equaliser. If that was unexpected then Gary O’Reilly’s goal to put Palace ahead certainly was, but goals from Steve McMahon and John Barnes had the Reds in the driving seat with five minutes to play.

However, Andy Gray managed to scramble home an equaliser with two minutes of normal time remaining, and in extra-time Palace did the unthinkable as Alan Pardew (yes, he used to play football before becoming a weird dancing manager) powered home a header to knock Liverpool out.

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There really can be only one winner.

Big spenders Middlesbrough took their star-studded squad to Old Trafford to face Division Two (now known as League One) Chesterfield.

The Spireites were aiming to become the first third tier side ever to reach the FA Cup final and they were handed an early advantage as Vladimir Kinder was shown a second yellow card.

Goals from Andrew Morris and a Sean Dyche penalty (yes, he used to be a player as well) put Chesterfield in dreamland before Fabrizio Ravanelli pulled a goal back – that’s the man who scored in the Champions League final the season prior by the way just to give you an idea of the gulf in class.

Jonathan Howard’s effort looked to have crossed the line to hand Chesterfield a third but referee David Elleray didn’t agree, before Craig Hignett rubbed salt into the wounds with a penalty to take the tie into extra-time.

Gianluca Festa handed Boro the lead in extra time (look out for Juninho’s fantastic attempt at a diving header in the build-up) before Jamie Hewitt’s last minute strike sent the game to a replay.

Boro won the resulting drab affair 1-0, but their first clash will live long in the memory.

Let’