Top 10 Greatest FA Cup Upsets of All Time

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! After a lengthy hiatus, the big names return to the hat in the FA Cup. It may not be Christmas, but it’s just as magical.

That said, the giants of English football certainly haven’t had it all their own way over the years. That’s because many minnows from up and down the divisions have been carving their own names into the competition’s glittering history – not by lifting the trophy, but by knocking out those that could have.

We take a look at the top 10 greatest FA Cup upsets ever.

1. Sunderland 1-0 Leeds United (1973)

Don Revie’s Leeds were one of the most dominant sides in the first division in the 1970s, finishing second in the 1971/72 league campaign while winning the 1972 FA Cup. The defending champions were on a roll, and were expected to retain their crown at the expense of Sunderland.

The Black Cats were trying to cope with life in the second division at the time, but they managed to pull off one of the greatest shocks that the famous competition will ever witness. Ian Porterfield netted the only goal of the game in front of 100,000 Wembley spectators, securing Sunderland’s only major trophy since the Second World War.

2. Wigan 1-0 Manchester City (2013)

The likes of Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez lined up for City under boss Roberto Mancini, but it was Roberto Martinez and his underdogs who had the last laugh. A late red card for Pablo Zabaleta freed up some space, with substitute Ben Watson heading in a dramatic 91st-minute winner.

The drama didn’t stop there for both sides, with City losing out on the league title to their neighbours in red, with the Latics becoming the only side to lift the cup and be relegated in the same season, losing 4-1 to Arsenal just three days after their Wembley triumph.

3. Sutton 2-1 Coventry (1989)

Flying high in the top-flight, Coventry headed to non-league Sutton in the third-round, having lifted the cup just 18 months prior. All was in their favour going into the meeting with the minnows, but the competition worked its magic the only way it knew how.

Eight Coventry players from the victorious 1987 team were present, but they couldn’t believe their eyes when Tony Rains opened the scoring for the hosts. David Phillips managed to equalise, but his efforts were quickly outdone by Sutton’s Matthew Hanlan. Sutton’s two heroes were then given a warm welcome as guests on Terry Wogan’s chat show a few days later.

4. Liverpool 0-1 Wimbledon (1988)

Liverpool were another incredible team in the late 20th century, and one that was doing amazing things both in England and in Europe. Wembley was in full voice for the final, with Reds fans confident of overcoming a team that had only been in the Football League for a total of 11 years.

But history was made that day by the Crazy Gang, with Lawrie Sanchez stunning the entire country with his first-half header. Wimbledon captain Dave Beasant also clinched his own bit of history, becoming the first goalkeeper to save an FA Cup final penalty.

5. Chelsea 2-4 Bradford (2015)

League One Bradford made the trip to Stamford Bridge in the fourth round of the tournament, a full 49 places below Chelsea in the English football ladder, with Jose Mourinho’s men cruising in the Premier League.

The Blues would go on to lift the league title, but were dealt a blow in the cup, despite going 2-0 up in front of their home fans. Jon Stead, Filipe Morais, Andy Halliday and Mark Yeates all fired home to go down in history in the competition with an unforgettable win.

6. Manchester United 0-1 Leeds (2010)

The Red Devils may have got the better of the Yorkshire outfit in their recent Premier League meeting, but it was a different story when the clubs met in the FA Cup a decade ago. And it’s one that Leeds fans won’t forget in a hurry.

Man United had never before lost in the third round of the competition during Sir Alex Ferguson’s 23-year-reign, but that all changed after cult hero Jermaine Beckford completely silenced Old Trafford in the 19th minute, with the visitors holding out to win 1-0.

7. Hereford 2-1 Newcastle (1972)

Easily one of the most famous upsets of all time, borne from a 2-2 draw at St James’ Park a month earlier. After several postponements due to bad weather, the third-round replay finally took place at a packed Edgar Street.

In a cagey affair in the mud, Newcastle’s Malcolm Macdonald thought he had scored the winning goal ten minutes from time. Three minutes later, however, a Ronnie Radford wonder goal levelled the tie, with Ricky George then finding a winner in extra-time to spark scenes of wild celebration throughout the stadium.

8. Oldham 3-2 Liverpool (2013)

A wet and wild Boundary Park was the first stumbling park for the likes of Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez in this fourth-round tie. But they had their Premier League stature behind them, having beaten the same opponents 5-1 in the same competition a season prior.

But that didn’t stand in the way of Paul Dickov’s men. Striker Matt Smith was the hero of the day, netting a brace despite giving up professional football just a few years earlier after being released by Cheltenham.

9. Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal (1992)

It was the top-flight champions against a side in the fourth tier, but it was the perfect recipe for a magical upset at the Racecourse Ground. But it didn’t start off that way, with Alan Smith helping the visitors get off to an ideal start.

Brian Flynn’s men had other plans, however, and levelled the scores through a free-kick from veteran captain Mickey Thomas. Steve Watkin completed the stunning turnaround two minutes later, sending shockwaves through the likes of David Seaman and Tony Adams.

10. Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City (2017)

National League club Lincoln completed one of the more recent shocks in the prestigious tournament, edging past Premier League Burnley at Turf Moor in the fifth round. A late Sean Raggett header saw the travelling side leave in the highest of spirits.

The Imps went crashing out of the quarter-final at the hands of Arsenal, but the club had already exceeded all expectations, becoming the first non-league side in 103 years to reach that stage of the competition.

Have we missed any special upsets? Which other games deserve to be included?

About the author

Peter Lynch

Sports Journalism graduate from the University of Stirling, huge Liverpool and Northern Ireland fan, currently working as a freelancer.