15 Matches That Defined This Season's FA Cup
On Saturday, Arsenal and Hull City will contest this season's FA Cup final at Wembley.
It has been a long journey to this point: Since the third round in the first week of January, 64 hopeful teams have been whittled down to the last pair standing. Only one of them can lift the trophy on Saturday evening, though.
Here we take a look at the key matches that led to the showpiece on Saturday.
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham (Third Round)
In perhaps the most exciting third-round tie, Arsenal drew Tottenham in a derby match at the Emirates.
Spurs, under new boss Tim Sherwood, entered the game in good form and decent spirits, but they were outclassed by a buoyant Arsenal side. Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky exposed spaces in the Spurs defence either side of half-time on the way to the next round.
The one sour note for the home side was an injury to Theo Walcott, who had been an influential performer before going down with a knee problem.
It would turn out that Walcott's season (and World Cup dream) was over, but he still got some gloating in at the expense of Spurs fans before he was stretchered off the pitch.
Manchester United 1-2 Swansea (Third Round)
David Moyes' season had many low points, and this might not have been anywhere near the worst of them. But it was nonetheless a suitable summation of the season, as United lost a game they perhaps should not have to fall well short of challenging for silverware.
Wayne Routledge opened the scoring after 12 minutes, but the home side reacted almost immediately through Javier Hernandez—before Wilfried Bony stunned the Old Trafford crowd with his 90th-minute winner.
It was a nightmare finish for Moyes, who had previously seen Fabio sent off in the 76th minute—just four minutes after replacing the injured Rio Ferdinand.
United would lose to Sunderland in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup soon after, effectively ending their hopes of winning a trophy this season (the Champions League was always likely to be a pipe dream).
Newcastle 1-2 Cardiff (Third Round)
Everyone knows that Newcastle have not won a significant trophy in 45 years. That's a long wait for one of the most passionate fanbases in English football.
Riding high in the top eight at the turn of the year, hopes were high that the Magpies might end the drought this season in the FA Cup—especially when the third-round draw handed them a winnable home tie against top-flight strugglers Cardiff.
Unfortunately, no-one told Alan Pardew and his players, as they contrived to lose 2-1 at St James' Park despite taking the lead through Papiss Cisse's 60th-minute goal.
Craig Noone and Fraizer Campbell turned the tie around for new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, sending Newcastle crashing out and extending their trophy-less streak for at least another season.
Cardiff, meanwhile, eventually lost in the fifth round at home to Wigan.
Sheffield United 2-0 Charlton (Sixth Round)
Sheffield United became the first League One side in 13 years to reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup after beating Championship outfit Charlton in March.
Adding to the scalps of Aston Villa, Fulham and Nottingham Forest, they pulled off the win in front of a packed crowd at Bramall Lane—a collective who combined to produce one of the best atmospheres the FA Cup saw all season.
Ryan Flynn and John Brayford scored the goals for the Blades, who then drew Hull City in the semi-finals.
Saint Albans City 1-8 Mansfield (First Round)
The highest-scoring game from this season's competition (at least, from the first round onward) came in front of 3,251 in St Albans, as Mansfield romped to an 8-1 victory.
Saint Albans actually took the lead in the match after eight minutes, but that was to prove an unfortunate indicator of what was to come, as Sam Clucas netted four times to seal his side's comfortable progress.
It was not to be a good omen of future success for Mansfield, however, as they ultimately went out of the competition in a second-round replay defeat at the hands of Oldham.
Arsenal 4-1 Everton (Sixth Round)
A penalty decision ultimately decided this quarter-final, as Gareth Barry's foul on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain effectively enabled Arsenal to continue their passage in the competition.
With the score at 1-1 and about 20 minutes remaining, Mikel Arteta blasted home a penalty he was forced to take twice to give his side the lead again, and then Olivier Giroud added a gloss to the scoreline in the closing minutes.
It was a key result for the Gunners, who had been struggling to break down Roberto Martinez's men up until that point. The Toffees may have sensed an upset that would have left them the highest-placed side left in the competition, but instead they came up just short.
Man City 1-2 Wigan (Sixth Round)
Manchester City's quadruple ambitions came to an end in dramatic fashion, as Championship side Wigan stunned them at the Etihad Stadium to reach the semi-finals at their expense.
City had won the Capital One Cup the weekend prior but were 2-0 down against Wigan shortly after half-time, thanks to goals from Jordi Gomez (from the penalty spot) and James Perch.
Samir Nasri set up a dramatic last 20 minutes thanks to his goal, but despite peppering the Wigan area with pressure, City were unable to find an equaliser as they crashed out of the competition.
With City on the scrapheap, suddenly the competition was blown wide open.
Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (Fifth Round)
Were Arsenal handed a charmed run to this season's FA Cup final, or did they really have to go above and beyond to earn it? On the one hand, almost every match they had was at home; on the other hand, they had to see off clubs like Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton.
Liverpool caused them the most trouble, especially after Steven Gerrard scored from the penalty spot to make it 2-1 with 20 minutes remaining. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski had given the home side a firm advantage but struggled as the game wore on, and Arsenal were perhaps lucky to avoid being dragged into a replay up at Anfield.
As it was they held on, removing one major rival for the trophy in the process.
Manchester City 2-0 Chelsea (Fifth Round)
The tie of the fifth round saw Manchester City face Chelsea, mere days after the Blues had stunned Manuel Pellegrini's side in the league to pick up a 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium.
On this occasion, however, City were far and away the superior of the two (heavily rotated) sides. Stevan Jovetic opened the scoring with a pinpoint finish before Samir Nasri wrapped up the match 20 minutes after half-time.
Chelsea, winners of the competition three of the five previous seasons, were out.
Fulham 0-1 Sheffield United (Fourth-Round Replay)
Sheffield United's Cinderella run to the semi-finals began in the first round against Colchester, but it was built on successive big-name scalps in the third and fourth rounds.
After beating Aston Villa at Villa Park at the start of January, the Blades then held Fulham to a 1-1 draw at Bramall Lane to force a fourth-round replay.
In a dire game for everyone who ended up watching it, United eventually won thanks to Shaun Miller's 120th-minute header.
The result was to prove just the start of the woes for Fulham in 2014 but continued a fairytale run for the League One side that would not end for a while.
MK Dons 1-3 Wigan Athletic (Third-Round Replay)
Wigan Athletic's strong defence of their title got started in the unlikely surroundings of Milton Keynes.
Having drawn 3-3 at the DW Stadium, the Latics were 1-0 down thanks to Luke Chadwick's early strike and looked to be going out of the competition at the first hurdle as the clock ticked on toward full-time.
But Nick Powell—on loan from Manchester United—equalised with 10 minutes remaining and then scored at the start of extra-time, with Marc-Antoine Fortune then finding the net to finally ensure Uwe Rosler's side would progress onto the fourth round...and even further.
Hull City 2-1 Brighton (Sixth Round)
Steve Bruce's Hull side only needed one replay on their way to the Wembley final, and it came against Brighton in the fifth round.
Having drawn 1-1 at the KC Stadium, the Tigers traveled down to the Amex and produced a clinical display to move onto the semi-finals. Curtis Davies and Robert Koren drove the visitors to a commanding lead before Leonardo Ulloa's second-half strike sent up a tense finale.
Brighton were unable to find an equaliser, however, as Bruce's side earned a semi-final trip to Wembley to face Sheffield United.
Nottingham Forest 5-0 West Ham (Third Round)
Perhaps the most surprising result of the competition came in the third round, as Nottingham Forest of the Championship emphatically hammered Premier League side West Ham, 5-0.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce rotated his side heavily, citing important Premier League games coming up, but the result only increased the pressure on him, with very real speculation that he would be fired following the manner of the defeat at the City Ground.
Allardyce's decision was perhaps vindicated in the fullness of time, however, as West Ham stayed up in the Premier League with relative ease. Forest, meanwhile, ended up going out of the FA Cup in the fifth round—and failed to even reach the play-offs in the final Championship reckoning.
Wigan 1-1* Arsenal (Semi-Finals)
After all the tough home ties against Premier League opposition, it was a meeting on neutral ground with a side one league below them that nearly cost Arsenal dear in their bid to end the nine-year trophy drought.
Jordi Gomez's penalty on the hour mark had the Latics on the verge of a scarcely believable return to the FA Cup final, before Per Mertesacker—who had given away the prior spot-kick—made amends with eight minutes remaining to force extra-time.
A goal in the additional 30 minutes was not forthcoming, but Arsenal prayers were answered in the penalty shootout when Lukasz Fabianski saved Wigan's opening two attempts to propel his side (belatedly) into the final.
If they had lost, a ninth year without a trophy would have been confirmed for the Gunners.
*Arsenal won 4-2 on penalties.
Hull 5-3 Sheffield United (Semi-Final)
The tournament's second highest-scoring match came in the penultimate game, as Hull scored five in an eight-goal thriller at Wembley to reach the final.
Sheffield United led twice before half-time but were 3-2 down within 10 minutes of the restart—and were eventually knocked out despite both Jamie Murphy and David Meyler scoring in time added on. Still, at least every fan went home happy after being thoroughly entertained.
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