Can just five minutes of football earn a match the billing of being 'great'? For all ihose who witnessed the incredible last five minutes of the 1979 FA Cup final the answer has to be a definite yes. Arsenal were back at Wembley a year after losing to the only goal of the match by Ipswich Town hero Roger Osborne. The game had been a personal nightmare for Irish international midficld master Liam Brady, who had unwisely played when less than fully fit and he had been unable to make any son of impact on the match. Brady was determined to make up for the heartbreak of 1978 against Manchester United, a team making their thin] FA Cup final appearance in four seasons. They had been stunned to defeat by Southampton in 1976 and had returned to Wembley the following year to sink mighty Liverpool. United, with former Arsenal coach Dave Sexton as their imaginative manager, had cleared ihe Liverpool hurdle again after a replay in the semi-finals to earn a place in the 1979 final. Arsenal had survived a dramatic five-match third-round tie against Sheffield Wednesday and eventually got to Wembley via a 2-0 semi-final victory over Wolves.
Arsenal appeared to have killed the match stone dead as a contest with two first-half goals that gave them a flattering 2-0 lead. Both goals were created by Brady, who wiped out the memory of his misery against Ipswich with as commanding an individual performance as has been seen in an FA Cup final. He started the 12ih minute move that climaxed with Brian Talbot—on the winning side with Ipswich the previous year-edging out team-mate Alan Sunderland in a race to put the finishing touch to a pass by David Price after inventive work out on the wing by Frank Stapleton. For the next half hour it was United who played the more constructive and composed football, and goalkeeper Pat Jennings needed to be at his best to keep Arsenal ahead. Jimmy Greenhoff, Lou Macari, Mickey Thomas and Joe Jordan all had scoring attempts before Brady eased the pressure with a quick break down the right from deep in midfield. United's defenders scurried back to cover and were waiting for Ihe Irishman to use his famed and feared left foot, but he fooled them by suddenly crossing the ball with his right foot. Staplelon, his fellow Dubliner, had read the situation perfectly and came dashing round the blindside of the United defence to meet the ball at the far post and head il wide of goalkeeper Gary Bailey.
After a half-time tactics talk from coach Don Howe, Arsenal adopted a what-we-have-we-hold attitude in the second half, and though surrendering icrritorial advantage rarely looked like allowing United the inspiration of a goal. The game was dying on its feet and many uncommitted fans were leaving the stadium when there was an explosion of action that turned a fairly undistinguished match into an unforgettable one. With just five minutes to go Arsenal sent on Steve Walford as a substitute for tiring David Price. Walford had not touched the ball when he looked on in horror as United scored two goals in two minutes. Centre-half Gordon McQueen swung a long leg hopefully after Joe Jordan had pushed a Steve Coppell free-kick into the danger area. The ball threaded its way from McQueen's boot past a forest of legs and into the Arsenal net.
Panic suddenly swept through the Arsenal defence like water gushing through a holed ship and two minutes later United scored again when Sammy Mcllroy ran on to a pass from Coppell, outpaced David O'Leary and the still-cold Walford and fired the ball positively into the net From being down and out jubilant United were now thinking in terms of victory in extra time that was just one minute away. But in their moment of euphoria they committed the cardinal sin of losing their concentration, and they were suddenly mortified to see Brady racing towards their penalty area with the ball at his feet. He drew two defenders out of position and then slipped the sweetest of passes to Graham Rix. Arsenal players piled forward into the United penalty area and were queuing up beyond hesitant goalkeeper Bailey to meet Rix's centre. It was Sundcrland who rammed the ball home to give the match an astonishing finish to compare with that of the Stanley Matthews final just over a quarter of a century before. The hardest job the Arsenal players had was catching Sunderland to congratulate him as he took off on a wild celebration run.
Arsenal Jennings, Rice, Nelson, Talbot, O'Leary, Young, Brady, Sunderland, Stapleton, Price, Rix. Sub: Walford.
Manchester United Bailey, Nicholl, Albiston, Mcllroy. McQueen, Buchan, Coppcll, Jimmy Greenhoff, Jordan, Macari, Thomas. Sub: Brian Greenhoff.
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