Thursday, December 16, 2010

English Leagues the 70s: FA Cup Manchester United Liverpool

First Semi Final
Maine Road, 
31 March 1979
Attendance 52,584

   "The most glamorous semi-final ever", according to Peter Swales, Chairman of host club, Manchester City, in the match programme where Martin Buchan was also quoted as saying "Liverpool are what team-work is about", while Emlyn Hughes felt United were "playing as well as any side in the country". Most pundits predicted a Liverpool victory, emphasising their vast experience and seemingly neglecting the fact seven of United's line-up had been in at least one of their two recent Wembley sides whilst McQueen and Jordan could scarcely be called 'rookies'. Only 'keeper Bailey and substitute Ritchie qualified for such a description and the latter must have been encouraged by a hat-trick against Leeds United just seven days previously.

Even the excellent draining qualities of the Maine Road pitch could not avoid 'going' on the heavy side which may have contributed to the jangling nerves which clearly affected such seasoned campaigners. This was quickly transmitted to (or did it stem from?) the two 'Red Armies' - who, incidentally, had to adjust to the sight of United in their second strip of white shirts and black shorts with Liverpool clad in all-yellow - as they cheered the opposition's misplaced passes and even the award of throw-ins to their heroes. Indeed, the opening quarter of an hour was an undistinguished affair with far too much hustle and bustle during which time the referee had to deal with a flurry of arms between Johnson and Nicholl, and followed up by penalising Liverpool on the edge of their penalty area after an incident involving Brian Greenhoff. However, this was all forgotten as, in the 17th minute, Thompson showed neat control with his chest, passed to Case who transferred the ball to Dalglish on the left side of the United box. In a flash, the Scot had twisted past Mcllroy and Buchan, committed Bailey and guided the ball inside his right-hand post. United, it had been said, needed to score first to stand a chance and their failure to do so doubtless increased the Scouse celebrations. However, barely had they subsided than Albiston's 19th minute throw found Jimmy Greenhoff whose high cross was met six yards out by Jordan who was allowed by Hansen what was, at this level, virtually a free header. Clemence could do no more than pick out the equaliser.

This success did wonders for United's confidence and the balance tipped perceptivly in their favour. A wild tackle on Jordan by Thompson with no great danger apparent earned him a caution and indicated that Liverpool were rattled. On the half-hour Greenhoff (J) cracked Coppell's cross from the right into the side netting and Hansen spoilt some good work by giving the ball away needlessly in his own area. At the other end, Johnson fired over wildly from eighteen yards while Dalglish was now finding life more difficult up front and seemed to provide little resistance as Buchan rose above him to head away in the 37th minute. However, referee Richardson, well placed to see, deemed the challenge unfair and awarded a penalty to the surprise of most onlookers, particularly McQueen, whose protest cost him a booking. McDermott, replacing Neal as penalty-taker despite the letter's successes, including one in the European Cup Final, strode forward and planted the ball against Bailey's right-hand post as the keeper plunged leftwards and seconds later a Souness drive was cleared off the line to complete the escape. As the half moved towards completion, United continued to flourish with Jimmy Greenhoff employing his experience to great effect, leaving one to wonder how England have never capped him. Even McQueen was in adventurous mood and Hansen was cautioned when he pulled back the big centre-half as he threatened to burst through. The half-time whistle was greeted by a storm of booing directed, presumably, at the referee for his penalty award, although he had maintained his composure and could not be blamed for the surfeit of niggly fouls.

The second-half resumed in similar vein with United posing problems through their enthusiasm but the game generally lacked pattern, However, in the 56th minute Jimmy Greenhoff, industrious as ever, sent in another cross from the left which went via Coppell to brother Brian and looped over Clemence to give his side just reward for this enterprise. Bob Paisley scurried from his seat in the directors' box and Heighway emerged from the dugout to warm up and eventually replace Case with some twenty-five minutes to play. His introduction, coupled with his team mates resolve to retrieve situation meant the pace was stepped up even further and, with forward players less tightly marked, the entertainment level rose. McQueen was dominant at the heart of the Manchester resistance, powering away numerous headers and on one occasion kicking the ball onto the roof of the stand. McDermott, keen to atone for his penalty miss, had a shooting chance but delayed too long as United found it increasingly difficult to escape from their own half although in the face of an isolated break, Thompson conceded a free-kick just outside his own box. Thomas' deflected chip brought an admirable save from Clemence but it may be observed that this was his first save of more than a routine nature and that in the 75th minute. From the corner McQueen could have sewn it all up with an unchallenged header that fizzed past the post.

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