Greatest Games: Sky Blues upset the odds in an FA Cup thriller

Coventry City winger - Dave Bennett
Dave Bennett scored one and set-up another as he put in a fantastic display
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Paul Robinson takes us back to May 1987 for his Greatest Game, as Coventry City overcame a star-studded Tottenham to record their greatest ever triumph...

"He was a couple of yards off the six yard line when the ball came in, but he leapt forwards to meet the ball, scoring one of the greatest diving headers of all time."

Coventry City 3 Tottenham 2 (AET)
FA Cup Final
Wembley Stadium, 16 May 1987

The Backstory

Before I begin with the backstory to the actual match, I should give you a little bit of information about why I chose this game. I was only three-years-old at the time, so do not remember watching it live. We lived in Coventry, and my Dad was a Sky Blue, while his brother (my uncle) was a Spurs man. They both went to Wembley in opposite ends, and it was my Dad who ended up keeping the recording of the game on VHS tape for years.

It was that tape that got viewed most in my childhood, with the sticky label reading - Coventry 3 Spurs 2 - DO NOT SCRUB. I may not have watched the game live, but I have seen the recording dozens and dozens of times, including the news broadcast of West Midlands Today afterwards.

As for the match itself, John Motson himself described it as "the finest Cup Final I've had the pleasure of commentating on."

At one point that season, Spurs looked set to go close to the domestic treble, but in a foreshadowing of more recent times, they ended up without a trophy.

Coventry had finished the season in 10th place in the old First Division, but their campaign was all about their cup run, as after knocking out Bolton at Highfield Road in the third round, the rest of their ties were away from home - including victories over Manchester United and Leeds.

The First Half

If Coventry were to stand a chance, they needed to get off to a quick-start, as after-all, this was a Spurs team that had Ray Clemence in goal, Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle and Ossie Ardiles in midfield, and Clive Allen up front.

It didn't pan out that way though, as after just two minutes, Waddle did what Chris Waddle does best, turned Greg Downs inside out, and whipped in a fine cross that Allen powered in with his head - his 49th goal of the campaign.

It should really have been game over. Tottenham were the heavy favourites from the start, and they were now ahead. Remember, this was a Sky Blues team that only had four players who had even played at Wembley before - with only David Phillips being a current international.

Joint manager's John Sillett and George Curtis didn't care about any of that though, and as they tried to settle down their team from the sidelines, Downes atoned for his early error by floating in a ball to the Spurs box, which was flicked on by Keith Houchen, and put into the net by Dave Bennett. It was a well taken goal by the winger, who's great first touch took it around Clemence. Coventry had only been behind for seven minutes.

The rest of the first half ebbed and flowed, with the Sky Blues having many more chances than expected. Cyrille Regis had a goal disallowed (saving Clemence's blushes), and Coventry's only real moment of worry was when goalkeeper, Steve Ogrizovic decided that he needed to have a bit of a dribble outside of his box.

Oggy, as he was affectionately known, could have been a cricketer, but he was well out of his ground when he tried to take on Allen, and then fluff his clearance. Allen eventually shot wide into the side-netting, as his 50th goal deserted him.

However with just five minutes remaining in the first half, Tottenham had a free kick from wide on the right. Hoddle put in a dangerous cross, that flicked off Richard Gough, and was eventually put in by Gary Mabbutt - although there was a strong suspicion of it being an own goal by City captain, Brian Kilcline.

The Second Half

The second period continued where the first left off, but it wasn't until the 62nd minute that the Sky Blue end of Wembley was in raptures again.

In 2015, the BBC voted this goal as the seventh best FA Cup Final goal of the last 50 years. For me, it's top three at worst.

Houchen had the ball on the edge of the Tottenham box, and laid it off to Bennett on the right-hand side. He was pretty much in an identical position as Waddle was for the Spurs opener.

In the seconds that Bennett had the ball, Houchen had made a run into the box. He was a couple of yards off the six yard line when the ball came in, but he leapt forwards to meet the ball, scoring one of the greatest diving headers of all time. It was duly voted the BBC Goal of the Season.

The next incident came in the middle of the pitch, as Coventry's captain Kilcline took out Mabbutt with a challenge that likely would result in a red card in the modern game. Back in 87 though, Kilcline, or 'Killer' as he was nicknamed, didn't even receive a yellow card. He had to leave the field though, as he injured himself in the challenge. His centre half partner, Trevor Peake, took the armband.

There would be no more goals in normal time, as the big Wembley pitch began to sap the players of their strength. Extra time it was - and nobody was complaining.

Gary Mabbutt's Knee

Following this game, Coventry City started a new fanzine called Gary Mabbutt's Knee, and in an interview in 2013, the ex Spurs defender spoke of how City fans still ask him for pictures of them kissing the body part in question.

It was only five minutes into the additional 30 that changed Mabbutt's life forever. Lloyd McGrath, a player who, in the build-up to the game, was quoted as saying that he was going to destroy Hoddle, stop him from playing and make sure he comes off the pitch feeling sick, got the ball on the right and put in a hopeful cross.

Mabbutt was tired - who wouldn't be at that stage - and as he dangled out a left leg, the ball ricocheted off his knee and looped over Clemence, into his own net. As he bent over with his face in his hands, you knew there would agony on his face, a theory which was confirmed as he dropped to his haunches.

It was backs to the wall stuff for Coventry now - 25 minutes to hold out for one of the great FA Cup Final upsets. Spurs didn't have much left though. Their League Cup semi-final exit to Arsenal and their faltering end to the First Division seemed to weigh heavily on them, and even Hoddle in his final game in a Tottenham shirt couldn't conjure up any more magic.

One last goal-kick from Ogrizovic signalled the end of the game, and as the camera panned to Sillett and Curtis embracing on the bench, Coventry had finally done it.

Kilcline was able to hobble up the Wembley steps to lift the trophy - Coventry's first FA Cup in 104 years. It was definitely worth the wait.

Paul Robinson,

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