Our writers' favourite FA Cup semi-final memories
Manchester United are preparing for a record-equalling 30th FA Cup semi-final, when taking on Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
With 20 wins at the last-four stage, there have been countless memorable moments for the Reds' travelling support to savour over the years, whether at Wembley, Villa Park or elsewhere - not least the 1999 replay success over Arsenal, which was arguably the finest tie ever played in the competition.
We asked our writers to delve into the memory bank and select their standout semi-final ties, but do you agree with our choices?
You'll notice the '99 replay is overlooked, but only because it is entrenched in everybody's minds forever...
Semi-final: UNITED 2 LIVERPOOL 1 (1985)
Selected by: ADAM MARSHALL, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Following United, for me, was very different back in the mid-eighties as a 12-year-old. There was no wall-to-wall TV coverage in those days and my father and I shunned the radio commentary to watch the highlights, without knowing the score, on BBC1’s Sportsnight or ITV’s Midweek Sports Special late that evening. It was a school night but there was special dispensation as I’d been gutted the previous weekend when Liverpool had equalised at the end of both normal and extra-time to cruelly deny us a place at Wembley. At Maine Road, four days later, we trailed to an own goal by the peerless Paul McGrath and feared the worst at the break. The Merseysiders were the dominant force and my recollection is of them constantly passing the ball back to Bruce Grobbelaar to waste time. And this is from the highlights!
It must be a false memory as we equalised within a couple of minutes of the second half, when Captain Marvel Bryan Robson unleashed a thunderbolt that remains one of my favourite goals to this day. On the hour mark, Mark Hughes fired us in front and I always felt the commentary was too low key for a precious moment. ‘The flag stays down… and United are ahead for the third time in the tie’. Who knows how long they showed of the remaining half an hour but it felt like a lifetime as looked to avoid more late heartbreak. Liverpool, like a villain in a movie who refused to lie down, were finally done on this occasion and it didn’t get much better than reaching an FA Cup final while knocking the Anfield outfit out. Another Merseyside club would provide the opposition at Wembley, and Everton were having an even better season than their neighbours!
Semi-final: UNITED 1 ARSENAL 0 (2004)
Selected by: IAN MCLEISH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Make no mistake – this was a horrible football match. An ill-tempered, disjointed, attritional battle between two teams deeply entrenched in a bitter rivalry stretching over a couple of decades. Neither team wanted to lose this one, but particularly not United – Arsenal were the team on top at this time, chasing a Treble, streets ahead in the league and aiming for a third consecutive FA Cup success. It wasn’t a game to turn on the style, finishing off a 30-pass move with an insouciant chip over the keeper. It was a game to win at all costs. Which made victory all the sweeter, and why it’s a match – and an atmosphere – I’ll always remember. The Reds took the lead after half-an-hour through Scholesy and dug deep – what we have, we hold seemed to be the tactics. Arsenal roared back and the tackles flew in, all of which served to intensify a powderkeg atmosphere which caused the old Villa Park stands to shake. The second half seem to last forever. And then, the final whistle, at last, greeted with a primal roar from the Red Army, fists punching the air in triumph. It’s not a match that will make the showreel of United’s most glorious games, but boy, what a semi-final.
Semi-final: UNITED 2 EVERTON 1 (2016)
Selected by: MARK FROGGATT, SENIOR DIGITAL EDITOR
In August, I’ll have reported on United matches for 10 years and that impending personal milestone has prompted me to (self-indulgently) reflect on the highs and lows so far. By my maths, there have been over 500 games in that time and each with their own unique story to tell, but I’m struggling to think of many that felt better than our 2016 semi-final against Everton.
Marouane Fellaini had bagged against his former club and David De Gea later saved Romelu Lukaku’s penalty, before Chris Smalling dramatically scored an own goal to seemingly trigger a period of extra time. It was worrying – the Toffees were coming on strong – but then came a moment of ecstasy that hadn’t been experienced in ages, as Anthony Martial combined with 14-game novice Marcus Rashford and exchanged passes with Ander Herrera, to bury an unerring finish into the bottom-right corner of the goal. Pandemonium! Those 93rd-minute celebrations felt so emotional and pure as the players and supporters came together as one behind the goal. It was a vintage United moment in a challenging season, and I recall feeling utterly exhausted when leaving Wembley’s giant press box some three hours later. It was everything you follow football for and, to this day, I think the game - and its joyous winner - is too often overlooked in the list of modern classics.
Semi-final: UNITED 2 SPURS 1 (2018)
Selected by: SAM CARNEY, CLUB JOURNALIST
Prior to 2018, Wembley for me had equalled disappointment. I can still hear the joyous screams of the Manchester City end as they knocked us out in the 2011 semi-final, on the way to ending their famous 35-year trophy drought. That was my first visit to the stadium and obviously not an experience I wanted to repeat. However, seven years later, that’s exactly what looked like happening, as Tottenham capped a lightning-fast start by taking the lead through Dele Alli. Mauricio Pochettino’s side were playing all their home games at the famous stadium at the time, and United had been well-beaten in the league encounter in January, so it didn’t feel much like a neutral venue! It therefore took a great effort for the Reds to haul ourselves back into the game, through Alexis Sanchez’s leaping header. As the game wore on, you could sense the nervousness from the Spurs support, who had so often seen their side denied at the last-four stage. Alas, Ander Herrera smashed home midway through the second half to clinch the win, and this time I could walk back down Wembley Way and travel back into London with a smile on my face, rather than having to dodge gloating opposition supporters. Let’s just forget that year’s final though, shall we?