Barnsley upset the odds
The history of the FA Cup is littered with shocks, as smaller teams in the Football League are motivated to make the most of their chance when paired alongside a giant of the Premier League. However, back in 2007-08, Barnsley took the opportunity to knock out two big-boys in quick succession as they marched into the semi-finals and the Tykes have another chance to upset the established order this weekend as they face champions Manchester City.
Having been relegated to Division Two in 2002, after the highs of their top-flight adventure had come to an end four years earlier, Barnsley were in a stage of rebuilding as they prepared for the 2007-08 season in the Championship. Manager Simon Davey was forced to replace six-first team players (Daniel Nardiello, Paul Hayes, Antony Kay, Paul Heckingbottom, Neil Austin and Marc Richards) with foreign signings and the summer saw the club bring in 14 new faces with which to consolidate their place in the second tier.
"The wage demands of a lot of English players mean they price themselves out of our market, so we have tried to get a few in who aren't on most people's radars," Davey told the Guardian, as he supplemented his side's British core with imports from countries as diverse as Brazil, Nigeria and Hungary.
The likes of goalkeeper Heinz Muller, midfielder Anderson and Jamal Campbell-Ryce impressed immediately and the club found themselves in the top six after their first 10 games - with a 3-0 defeat of unbeaten Bristol City the highlight. Beaten in the League Cup by Newcastle, Barnsley had started to slip when the FA Cup Third Round rolled around in January, but they progressed past Blackpool and into the next phase for the first time since 1999 after a late comeback with goals from Stephen Foster and young striker Michael Coulson.
The distraction of the cup proved problematic to Barnsley's hopes of Championship survival, however. After the defeat of Blackpool, the club lost to Norwich and QPR to slip to 16th place in the table and continue a run that had not seen them win in eight league games. Thankfully, their cup run was keeping their spirits up and a trip to Southend for the Fourth Round saw them win 1-0 with a wonderful strike from Campbell-Ryce. The draw then brought about the chance to go to Anfield as Liverpool were the name picked out of the hat.
But, before the game, an injury to goalkeeper Muller sent the side into disarray. With back-up keeper Tony Warner cup-tied, Barnsley were forced to bring in former Manchester United player Luke Steele on an emergency loan from West Bromwich Albion. The timing could not have been closer as he arrived two days before the game. "It's been a mad scramble for the last two weeks to get someone in who could play at this sort of level," admitted Davey. "I think the board were panicking more than me. I kept saying to them, 'Don't worry, we'll be OK', and we jumped at the chance when we realised we could get Luke."
It was a decision that would seal their progress as Steele put in a Man of the Match performance at Anfield. The Observer's Jamie Jackson wrote: "In the first half Steele had several stand-out moments. There was an 18th-minute denial of Peter Crouch close in. A superb save from an Alonso 20-yard shot that was heading for the top corner followed and the 23-year-old intervened. And a further stop from Crouch also came, close to the interval."
Liverpool had taken the lead, as good work from Ryan Babel found Dirk Kuyt to net his first goal in 14 games. But Barnsley came roaring back; a cross came in and Liverpool "allowed Stephen Foster to meet it with his head. The defender, who also scored the equaliser against Blackpool in the third round, made no mistake."
Steele continued his heroics, but the final word was had by veteran striker Brian Howard. As Jackson wrote: "The three minutes of added time were virtually up when Barnsley's captain pounced following hesitation from Xabi Alonso. In front of the Kop and the 42,449 inside Anfield, the former Swindon midfielder danced forward before unleashing the sweetest of left-foot finishes from the edge of the area. It was a winner that instantly made him a hero for the remainder of his days. It was also a goal that dumped the seven-times FA Cup winners out of the competition."
The goal brought a memorable reaction on Sky Sports' Soccer Saturday.
Barnsley's most 'famous' fan, cricket umpire 'Dickie' Bird, told the Guardian afterwards: "I'm absolutely stunned. It's tremendous. I have supported Barnsley for 65 years and that is the best result I have seen. Liverpool couldn't put the ball in the net. Our goalkeeper did very well but it was an amazing performance all round. I was more nervous watching that than walking out in a Test match at Calcutta in front of 120,000."
One of the greatest shocks in the FA Cup was complete, but there was more to follow. Four league games without a win brought no relief from their Championship woes, but they met Chelsea in the quarter-finals at Oakwell with a real feeling that they could cause another upset.
Davey was giving little away in his team selection for the game against the big-spending Blues. "They all want to play against the Lampards and Drogbas and I'm sure there are one or two players who came back in contention tonight like [Sam] Togwell and [Kayode] Odejayi, who will be in with a chance," he said. But, after the defeat of Liverpool, confidence was high; whoever was given the chance to play would give it their all.
And so it proved. An incredibly hard-fought game saw Odejayi star. The striker, who was a £200,000 buy from Cheltenham in May, had not found the net for 28 appearances but his "towering far-post header" settled the match and left Avram Grant's side in crisis as they felt the pressure of Jose Mourinho's exit earlier that season. For Barnsley, it was simply the greatest night in their history.
The Observer's Spencer Vignes wrote: "And they say lightning never strikes twice. Having disposed of Liverpool in the previous round, Barnsley only went and did it again by knocking Chelsea out of the FA Cup on a memorable night in South Yorkshire. Dickie Bird, Darren Gough, Arthur Scargill, Michael Parkinson - your boys dished out one hell of a beating.
"In a year of surprises in the old competition, this in many ways was perhaps the biggest. Only one division separates the Londoners from the Tykes, yet in terms of playing power and overall resources the two are light years apart. This had been billed by many as Barnsley's cup final, the expectation being that their dramatic run would be brought to an honourable end. Instead, they are Wembley-bound for the semi-finals."
Barnsley had made it into the semi-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since 1912 and, ahead of their cup clash with Cardiff as they sat perilously close to the drop zone, Davey was asked whether the fans would want league survival, or cup glory. "Secretly, the players would probably say they want a winners' medal but, if I had to choose, I'd want league survival; the FA Cup final is a one-day occasion," he reflected. "Hopefully we'll have both, though."
What happened next? The FA Cup dream was not to be as, after beating Liverpool and Chelsea, the Tykes fell to Cardiff in the semi-finals and missed out on a famous final. With the cup gone, Barnsley were able to re-focus efforts on the league campaign and won three of their last six games to ensure their survival. The final game of the season was a 3-0 defeat to Cardiff, who would go on to lose the 2008 FA Cup final 1-0 to Portsmouth.