The best cup competition in the world? The FA Cup. Showcasing the passion, excitement and perhaps the unbelievable nature of English football, the FA Cup is a veritable one-off. On February 4th 2004, a fourth round replay between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City re-ignited the Cup’s old sparkle with a remarkable turnaround which evoked the sheer magic of the famous knockout competition.
After a disappointing 1-1 draw at the City of Manchester stadium in the initial fourth round tie, the game was taken to a replay at White Hart Lane. With an FA Cup 5th round place at stake, both teams were preparing strong sides despite a busy Premier League schedule. Man City fielded a fresh looking line up in which raw, incomplete talent had been blended with a more mature element to provide a formidable opposition for any team. Starlets such as Shaun Wright-Phillips were emerging from the City academy, along with experience in the form of players such as Paul Bosvelt and Robbie Fowler. Yet City lacked any real consistency and needed to improve on their killer instinct in order to become a genuine force in the Premier League and FA Cup.
The Spurs team was notably similar with players like Ledley King and Robbie Keane establishing rising reputations alongside hardened premiership campaigners such as Kasey Keller and Gus Poyet. With a squad close to full fitness and high on confidence following 4 wins from their previous 5 games, the North London club went into the tie as firm favourites. Since Spurs were able to call on a number of different strikers throughout the season including the aforementioned Keane, Freddie Kanoute and Helder Postiga, firepower was in no short supply- something which appeared to give Tottenham a strong hand in their hunt for the FA Cup.
The only visible advantage the Blues could claim over Tottenham was in the dugout, where they had benefited from greater stability at management level. Kevin Keegan was at the helm for Manchester City, busying himself with the task of strengthening the club during their second top flight season since promotion from the first division in 2002/2003. Spurs in turn had caretaker manager David Pleat in charge, and while their form had been good, the uncertainty surrounding the top job at the Lane provided the greatest possible distraction as they headed into this home replay.
With City needing to bring some more pace and energy to the team they made three changes with the youthful duo of Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips coming in at the expense of Claudio Reyna and Antoine Sibierski. Wright Phillips had already begun to show his ability to the City faithful with his mazy runs and sheer pace causing problems for the top tier’s defenders. For this reason Keegan opted to field him for the tie. Between the sticks, inexperienced stopper Arni Arason replaced the only slightly more tried and tested Kevin Stuhr-Ellegaard as Man City‘s goalkeeper crisis rumbled on, following the painful demise of David Seaman. Tottenham also had a change of tactics in mind in the build up to the game with German star Christian Ziege and Frenchman Stephane Dalmat back in the frame to add some much needed quality to Tottenham’s set pieces.
The opening of the game was typical of a traditional, all action English FA Cup fixture. An unlikely first goal scorer struck for Spurs in the second minute of the game. The young centre half, Ledley King, made a forward burst from defence, played a smart one two with the returning Stephane Dalmat and curled an excellent right footed shot beyond the helpless debutant Arason. The start got even better for Spurs as a searching long ball from Stephen Carr behind the static Manchester City defence found Robbie Keane who was on hand to tuck the ball home with consummate ease. The City defence were being cut apart as Richard Dunne and Sylvain Distin lacked positional sense and could not handle the movement of a roaming Dalmat and a tricky Keane. With their pace merchant Nicolas Anelka limping off in the 27th minute, hopes seemed to be fading fast for the City faithful- and that was before the incredible third goal from the Spurs left back Ziege. The defender was back in the side after the first draw with Manchester City and showed the Spurs fans his left foot at its most devastatingly lethal. With two minutes remaining in the first half Ziege revealed why he had earned a starting berth by curling an incredible free kick into the top corner to effectively kill off Manchester City’s chances before half time.
Things went from bad to worse for City off the pitch as Joey Barton received a second yellow card in the tunnel for dissent, dealing another blow to their hopes for an unlikely come back. However, Kevin Keegan’s harsh words at half time must have made a difference to the City team as they came out of the tunnel with a sense of urgency and belief that they could achieve something special. After just 48 minutes Michael Tarnat’s clever free kick found Sylvain Distin and the tall central defender headed the ball home past Kasey Keller to give City a glimmer of hope in the second half. Energy and vigour were on display throughout the City side and the second goal brought about the slice of luck they needed. The ball broke kindly on the edge of the box for the Dutchman Paul Bosvelt, who fired off a shot destined for the corner flag, until a timely intervention from Anthony Gardner deflected the ball beyond Keller and into the net.
The tension was there for all to see at White Hart Lane, players and fans alike succumbing to nerves as the ground soon filled with the chants of City fans dreaming of an incredible comeback. The team with ten men were running on adrenaline and this was clear to see in Shaun Wright-Phillips’ tremendous equalizer. In the 80th minute a threaded through ball from Robbie Fowler found Wright-Phillips who easily accelerated away from the Spurs defence and chipped a delightful ball over the onrushing Kasey Keller to send the blue section of the stadium bonkers. At 3-3 the tie was perfectly set up for a hero to make his entrance. Step up John Macken. In the 90th minute a deep cross from Michael Tarnat found Macken at the back post and the Irishman rose to power a fantastic header into the bottom corner of the net, sending City into the FA Cup 5th round and etching the game firmly into the annals of the great tournament.
Five years on from this incredible game we are still writing, reminiscing and enjoying the feelings we had during this phenomenal match. Kevin Keegan claimed that “people will be talking about the game long after we have gone”. That statement and the game itself is a testament to the place of the FA Cup in football folklore. It is a special competition, a competition which always has and always will create so many special memories.