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May 13, 2011

The FA Cup's Greatest Finals

ESPNsoccernet will be taking you through the season with a series of FA Cup features detailing the highlights of the competition's long and proud history. Here, we look at the finals that delighted and distressed in equal measure - rollercoaster clashes that perfectly encapsulated the drama of the cup.

• Lomas: An underdog story
• FA Cup's Greatest Goalkeepers
• FA Cup's Greatest Defenders
• FA Cup's Greatest Midfielders
• FA Cup's Greatest Forwards
• FA Cup's Greatest Managers

Aston Villa 3-2 Everton - 1897

Back when Wembley Stadium was not even a twinkle in its architect's eye, the FA Cup final was regularly played at Crystal Palace. It was a ground on which Double-chasing Aston Villa had tasted success before: two years earlier they had beaten local rivals West Bromwich Albion to win the cup for the second time.

But George Ramsay - the most successful manager in Villa's history - was to oversee his most memorable day at the club against Everton, as his side celebrated Football League and FA Cup glory on the same day, the first and only time it has happened in the English game.

The FA Cup final was a sensational affair, as the 65,891 fans in attendance were treated to a five-goal first-half blitz. All of the strikes came in 25 enthralling minutes as the lead changed hands three times. John Campbell opened proceedings for Villa in the 18th minute, but Everton turned the tables as Jack Bell equalised, before Dickie Boyle's free-kick put them ahead.

The Merseysiders pressed for a third but Villa hit back through Fred Wheldon and then, on the stoke of half-time, Jimmy Crabtree nodded home a corner to give Villa a 3-2 lead that they would successfully protect until the final whistle. A glorious day became even better when news emerged that, in the league, second-placed Derby had lost away at Bury - Villa could not be caught at the top of the table and were crowned Double winners.

Blackpool 4-3 Bolton - 1953

It is testament to the dazzling ability of Stanley Matthews that the only FA Cup final ever to witness a hat-trick bears the wing wizard's name and not that of three-goal hero Stan Mortensen. The 'Matthews Final' is synonymous with the FA Cup and it was a game in which Blackpool's 38-year-old magician was finally able to conjure up the winners' medal that had eluded him for so long.

Having tasted defeat to Manchester United in 1948 and Newcastle in 1951, the Seasiders' talisman was at his inspirational best as they fought back from 3-1 down to secure the only piece of major silverware in their history and the only major medal of Matthews' illustrious career.

Goals from the late, great Nat Lofthouse and Mortensen had the sides level at half-time, but by the 55th minute, Bobby Langton and Eric Bell put Bolton two to the good in their first final appearance since 1929. However, Matthews was not to be denied and he spent the rest of the second half tormenting Wanderers' increasingly bewildered left-back Ralph Banks.

With a turn of pace and enchanting dribbling that belied his 38 years, Matthews made space to set up Mortensen's second goal with a teasing cross, before the prolific frontman smashed home an 89th minute free-kick that looked to have sent the game to a replay. But Matthews was to offer one final, telling contribution and after slaloming through Bolton's shattered defence once again, he teed up Bill Perry for the most dramatic of injury-time winners.

Everton 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday - 1966

With Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Star in attendance, Everton and Sheffield Wednesday managed to provide the sort of spectacle that most football fans would welcome Eight Days A Week. The gripping contest would surely have left a more enduring imprint on English football in 1966 had a rather memorable display from Geoff Hurst and Co not upstaged it two-and-a-half months later.

Nonetheless, it was a cracking encounter that brought Everton boss Harry Catterick up against the club he had guided to second place in the First Division before leaving for Goodison Park five years earlier. His opposite number was harsh disciplinarian Alan Brown, a man who mentored Brian Clough and who, like 'Old Big 'Ed', demanded blood, sweat and tears from his players. One person at Wembley who certainly gave his all that day was lone pitch invader Eddie Cavanagh, whose elusion of a chasing policeman was a humorous sideshow.

Wednesday swept into an early lead through Jim McCalliog, before David Young added a second. But it was soon to become to be a final of firsts. There had been many raised eyebrows at Everton's inclusion of Mike Trebilcock, a winger who had played just a handful of reserve games since returning from a serious injury, ahead of England international forward Fred Pickering. But it proved a masterstroke from Catterick as Trebilcock became the first black player to score in a Wembley final and then promptly became the first black player to score two in a Wembley final as Everton equalised.

The Toffees completed the comeback - they remain the only side to have overturned a two-goal deficit to win an FA Cup final in normal time - thanks to a howler from Gerry Young. The centre back slipped attempting to control a long ball, letting in Everton winger Derek Temple, who beat 'keeper Ron Springett to take the cup to Merseyside for the second year in a row.

Coventry 3-2 Spurs - 1987

The only trophy in Coventry' cabinet was achieved with real flair against a Tottenham team well established as great entertainers. Spurs oozed midfield style and with Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle and Ossie Ardille sat their disposal, were overwhelming favourites against John Sillett's unfashionable Sky Blues. When Clive Allen headed the North Londoners into the lead - after Waddle had turned Greg Downs inside out - with just two minutes on the clock, many feared a rout.

However, Coventry set about Spurs with some fearless, and pretty unexpected, attacking football and just seven minutes later they were all square thanks to David Bennett. Having experienced defeat to Tottenham in the 1981 FA Cup final, Bennett played like a man possessed and his marauding runs caused David Pleat's side problems throughout.

Spurs were back in front when Gary Mabbutt bundled Tottenham back ahead as Coventry goalkeeper Steve Ogrizovic was left stranded, but Keith Houchen's brave diving header to convert another delightful right-wing cross from Bennett made it 2-2.

Extra-time was welcomed across the nation, so superb had been the 90 minutes, and both sides continued to attack. The game was notable for having no yellow cards, as both teams focused on playing attractive football, but the goal that settled the match was anything but beautiful. Lloyd McGrath broke down the right and his ball across the box was met by Mabbutt, who sent a looping interception over Ray Clemence to send Sky Blues fans barmy.

Liverpool 3-3 West Ham - 2006

For the seventh and final instalment of the FA Cup showpiece's secondment to the Millennium Stadium, Liverpool and West Ham served up a footballing feast. The six-goal thriller in Cardiff was agony for the fans involved, but a real spectacle for the neutral; it was the highest-scoring final since 1990 and was one of only three times in the past 17 years that both sides have scored.

West Ham's start was electric and after 20 minutes they took a deserved lead when Jamie Carragher diverted the ball past Pepe Reina to put himself in esteemed company alongside fellow FA Cup final own goal scorers Gary Mabbutt and Des Walker. Seven minutes later, Dean Ashton pounced on a Reina fumble to double the lead and Hammers fans were dreaming if a repeat of their shock victory over Arsenal in 1980.

Rafa Benitez's Reds were rocked but they responded before half-time, Djibril Cisse volleying home an incisive pass from captain Steven Gerrard, who appeared on a personal crusade to drag his team back into the game. He did just that at the beginning of the second half, volleying home from beside the penalty spot, but Alan Pardew's side regained the lead when Paul Konchesky's speculative long-range effort crept over Reina's head.

There was another twist to come, though, and it was to be Gerrard who provided it, lashing home a 35-yard thunderbolt to equalise in the 91st minute; the dramatic leveller left the Hammers deflated and it was a goal the England midfielder reserved special praise for in his autobiography.

"The feeling ripping through me matched the one after my Champions League header, although my second FA Cup final goal was better - my best ever goal. The brilliance of it still hasn't sunk in. I still can't believe I scored from so far out. On the Millennium pitch, I couldn't celebrate properly, I was too shattered. I just smiled and patted the GERRARD on my back."

After 30 minutes of energy-sapping extra-time, in which a number of players had to be treated for cramp, a penalty shootout ensued and it was to be Gerrard's Liverpool who emerged triumphant, as three of West Ham's four penalty takers crumbled under the pressure.

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