After Sunday’s incredible scenes at The New Den, we can all look forward to a day out at Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final.
We have an unbeaten record at that stage of the competition, following the 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in 1983, in front of over 54,500 fans at Highbury.
We have encountered Manchester City twice before in the FA Cup. The first meeting came in February 1924 in the third round. City were mid-table in the top flight, while we were third in Division Three (South). Nearly 25,000 packed into the Goldstone but despite what seemed like a fairly even game, City were too strong and ran out 5-1 winners.
In 1983, City again came to Sussex, this time for a fourth round tie. It was destined to be Albion’s relegation season and City were mid-table, but momentum was building in the FA Cup, after the replay victory at St James’ Park in the third round.
After Mike Bailey left the club ‘by mutual consent’ in December 1982, the team was being looked after by chief coach George Aitken and chief scout Jimmy Melia. Although ostensibly in ‘joint’ control, it was Melia who grabbed the limelight as Albion started to implement a more attacking philosophy. This was in direct contract to Bailey’s cautious, ultra-defensive approach, which had alienated many supporters. Crowds had plummeted and chairman Mike Bamber was left with little choice but to wield the axe.
Despite the attacking intentions, league form didn’t improve by much, but the FA Cup was a different story. A battling performance at Newcastle, in the face of an onslaught in the final few minutes took us into the City game with hope.
Melia and Stuart made just two changes from the previous game. Graham Moseley in goal, continued behind a back four of Stev Gatting, Steve Foster, Chris Ramsey and Gary Stevens. In midfield, Jimmy Case, rejuvenated under fellow-scouser Melia, was partnered by Tony Grealish, Neil Smillie and Gordon Smith. Up front, the partnership of Andy Ritchie and Michael Robinson continued.
For City, manager John Bond was a man under pressure. He was struggling to re-create the success of previous years, with many of his squad reaching the end of their careers.
Albion tore into them from the first whistle and went ahead after just eight minutes, when a long-range shot from Jimmy Case was deflected over the head of Joe Corrigan. Soon afterwards, a powerful header from Steve Foster was tipped over the bar but it wasn’t long before Albion extended their lead. Andy Ritchie was put through and although his powerful shot was parried, Corrigan could only divert the ball into the path of Neil Smillie, who tapped home from five yards in front of the South Stand.
Albion continued to press but couldn’t add to their tally before half-time. It was the same story after the break, with the Seagulls making all the running. City came close on a couple of occasions, but Albion extended their lead midway through the half.
Following a crunching tackle from behind on Ritchie, the referee waved play on as the ball fell to the feet of Tony Grealish. It proved to be a great decision, as the Irishman jinked his way to the edge of the box before slipping a deft pass through to Michael Robinson. He smashed the ball home from 12 yards to trigger wild celebrations, and a trademark crowd surge in the North Stand.
We held firm for the remainder of the game and in the last minute, Robinson scored his second, and Albion’s fourth, with a shot that trickled over the line to seal an emphatic victory.
Our reward for that performance was a trip to the fortress of Anfield, and we all know what happened there. That incredible 2-1 victory was followed by a tight 1-0 win against Norwich City in the quarter-final and an equally tense victory in the semi-final, before the final against Manchester United.
Bringing us up date, we now have a week off to try and recover from the drama at Millwall but as we look forward to the semi-final, a look back to 1983 shows that anything is possible in the FA Cup.
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