HALF TIME: Crystal Palace 0-1 Liverpool
The scoreline is pretty much as we expected … but Palace have contributed to an enjoyable, open game. They’ll take heart from their performance, especially during the last 15 minutes of that half.
45 min: Salako skates down the left but once again his cross isn’t all that. He’s found some good positions, but his delivery has been dismal so far. “I’ve been so busy, what with being in Year 3, I forgot this game was happening today,” writes the scatterbrained Matt Dony. “Such a shame to see Rush leave the field. What a player. Certainly the best player I’ve seen in a Welsh shirt in my (admittedly short) lifetime. I can’t imagine we’ll be lucky enough to see any more gifted individuals any time soon.”
44 min: McMahon starts a Liverpool counter by spraying a long ball down the left for Barnes. There’s nobody for Barnes to pass to, so he waits, and waits, and waits, until Beardsley scuttles down the left to show. Beardsley receives the pass, turns and looks for an opportunity to shoot. But Palace have kept the door closed. The ball’s worked back to McMahon, who flays an overly ambitious shot into the crowd behind the goal from 30 yards. Martyn’s palms remain untroubled and cool.
42 min: Gillespie meanders in from the right and plays a cute reverse pass down the channel for Staunton, who has hared across from the other flank. Staunton is clear in the box, and forces the ball past the out-rushing Martyn, rounding the keeper. But just as he prepares to roll into the empty net, the flag goes up for offside. That might have been a foul on the keeper anyway. Staunton and Thorn – a member of the victorious 1988 Wimbledon team, and something of, what’s the word, a bramble (?) in Liverpool’s side – have a full and frank exchange of perspectives before play restarts.
41 min: Bright makes a terrible nuisance of himself down the right, and forces a rare mistake out of the usually unflappable Hansen, whose attempted backpass to Grobbelaar flies straight out for a corner. Grobbelaar is fuming. With great I’ll-sort-this determination, he plucks Thomas’s corner out of the sky under surveillance from O’Reilly. Everyone was barged out of the way there. A none-shall-pass attitude.
39 min: Gillespie wheels down the right and wins a corner. Houghton takes, but Barnes isn’t able to connect in the box and Palace clear without too much drama. Liverpool come back at Palace, Staunton deciding to have a crack from 25 yards. It’s blocked at source. Martyn still hasn’t had much on his plate.
38 min: Pardew drives down the middle in the hope of launching another Palace attack. He can’t quite force the ball through to Bright, and the move fizzles out. Apologies to Sam Smedley, but Pards has looked lively on a couple of occasions when driving at the Liverpool back line. He’s getting them on the back foot, albeit without tangible success as of yet.
36 min: Pemberton sashays past Staunton with great ease, the Liverpool sub not yet up to speed. Hysen puts a stop to his gallop eventually, but Palace come again, Gray working to earn a corner out on the left. Gray floats it in. Easy for Gillespie, who combines with Hysen to clear at the near post. Palace come straight back at Liverpool through Barber, who can’t quite force his way through the middle. This is so much better from Palace.
34 min: Liverpool have dominated possession. But the thing is, other than scoring, and that flurry of early chances from left-wing crosses, they haven’t particularly tested Palace. Certainly Martyn hasn’t had too much work to do. Coppell will be happy with the way his men have responded to falling behind.
33 min: Burrows blocks Gray on the right. In doing so, he hurts himself in his trouser arrangement. He’s soon up and about again. Still no booking. He must be testing the referee’s patience, surely. The resulting Palace free kick is a complete waste of time.
32 min: A McMahon dummy nearly releases Beardsley down the right, but Shaw is live to the danger. Palace counter, Barber hoicking long for Bright. A little too long; Grobbelaar comes out to the edge of his box to claim.
31 min: And they’ll be further encouraged by this breaking news: Rush can’t continue. Staunton comes on in his stead. That’s a huge blow for Liverpool. Staunton has gone out to the left wing, taking the place of Barnes, who moves up front with Beardsley. Rushie departs, holding his ribs.
29 min: Barber makes good down the left and slings a cross towards the opposite flank for Bright, who is out-jumped by Burrows. The ball sails back to Grobbelaar. Palace will definitely be encouraged by the last few minutes.
28 min: Bright gets the better of Hansen in a foot race down the right, and whips a low ball towards the near post. Hysen should deal with it, but dozes and dallies, and nearly lets Barber nip in. Hysen recovers just in time, poking out for a corner. Thomas takes, but Grobbelaar punches confidently clear, under no little pressure from O’Reilly. That’s again promising for Palace, though. Liverpool don’t look at all convincing at the back; 1979, and that Neal-Hansen-Thompson-Kennedy back line, seems an awfully long time ago.
27 min: Burrows barrels down the left at great speed once more. For a second, it looks as though he’ll power into the box, but Gray holds his line and eventually toe-pokes the ball away from his opponent’s boot. Gray turns and launches a counter, only to be felled by a fairly agricultural lunge from Burrows, tracking back. Burrows gets a ticking off from the referee, and is pretty fortunate not to go in the book.
26 min: Barber makes his way down the left but can only send his cross deep into the crowd behind the goal. It could be a quiet afternoon for Grobbelaar, who hasn’t had a save to make yet.
25 min: This may give them succour, too. The relentless Rush is down, having taken a whack to the ribcage in an accidental collision with O’Reilly. Physio Roy Evans comes on with his adidas carry-all, packed to the brim with medical bumf.
24 min: Bright makes good down the left. Pardew and Barber wait in the centre, but no cross is forthcoming. Palace have been under the cosh for the most part, but there’s yet another attack which suggests they’re not completely without hope.
23 min: Beardsley and Shaw chase a long pass down the inside right. Martyn comes out to claim and clatters into Shaw, who takes one in his startled fizzog. Friendly fire. He’s fine to continue after a dab down with the magic sponge.
22 min: Thomas applies pressure to Gillespie down the left. He nearly forces a corner, but it’s just a throw. A chance to fling a long throw into the box. Palace load the area accordingly. Salako takes … short. Pulitzer, please! The ball’s hoicked back to him; his subsequent cross is headed convincingly clear by Hysen. Liverpool attempt to break with pace. Pemberton cynically climbs all over Beardsley, and that’s a blatant free kick. McMahon takes it super-quickly, feeding Rush who then slips the ball to Barnes, just inside the Palace half on the left. It’s two on one, O’Reilly the only man back, McMahon in acres to the right of Barnes! But before Barnes can set his team-mate free, the whistle blows. Palace are extremely relieved to hear it. Turns out the ball was rolling when McMahon took the quickie.
20 min: Liverpool ping the ball around in graceful fashion. Barnes nearly carves out an opening down the left, but he out-dribbles himself and falls over. Palace have been chasing shadows for the most part during this opening quarter. “A comfortable afternoon in store for Liverpool if the early signs are anything to go by,” observes Simon McMahon. “Should be the same for Dundee United next week in their Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen. It’s about time we won the Cup after four final defeats in the Eighties. And I fancy Scotland to do something in Italy too. Shaping up to be quite the year.” Yes, good old 1990, you’ve captured the zeitgeist perfectly. Nice one, top, sorted, bangin’.
19 min: Pardew drives down the inside-right channel and attempts a one-two with Bright. He looks to have been cynically blocked by three silver shirts, but the referee sees nothing wrong with the challenges and the danger is snuffed out. Pardew had the right to complain more than he did.
18 min: Beardsley skedaddles down the left and nearly gets the better of Shaw, but the Palace defender stands firm and eventually wins a free kick, pestered beyond legality by his ever-busy opponent.
16 min: That’s Rush’s 32nd FA Cup goal, and on the balance of play it had been coming. Rush isn’t quite up to Denis Law standards in this competition: the Scot racked up 41 during an illustrious career, with another six being chalked off as the result of an abandonment. On the other hand, Rush has been the deciding factor in two finals (1986 and 1989) as opposed to Law’s one (1963) so it’s swings and roundabouts. And there’s still plenty of time for Rushie to score a few more, of course.
GOAL! Crystal Palace 0-1 Liverpool (Rush 14)
McMahon reads a Thomas flick in the centre circle to intercept. He drives forward. Thorn and O’Reilly push up but are miles apart, O’Reilly significantly deeper. Rush drifts between them, played onside by O’Reilly, and makes a trademark curved run to the left. McMahon slide-rules the ball down the channel. Without touching the pass, Rush enters the box and draws Martyn, before clipping a left-footed shot past the keeper from a tight-ish angle and into the unguarded net!
13 min: Hansen slips a ball down the left for Barnes, who twists Pemberton’s blood before sending a cross into the mixer. Thorn tidies up with Houghton and Rush lurking. Palace are being pinned back a little here.
12 min: Another sortie launched by Hansen, who is master of the midfield right now. Palace are giving the Liverpool captain a lot of space. Far too much, really. He sails down the middle and reaches the edge of the D, whereupon temptation gets the better of him. He tries to whistle one into the top-right corner, but only succeeds in finding the top-right corner of the Holte End. Mind that scoreboard, will you.
10 min: Bright bustles down the right, the ball breaking to Pemberton on the overlap. Pemberton’s cross is over-excitable, but take the positives, that’s another decent Palace attack. They’ve been all over the shop at the back, but they’ve shown enough in attack to suggest Liverpool might not have it all their own way.
9 min: Houghton cuts in from the right and lays off to Beardsley, who chips cutely down the channel in the hope of releasing Gillespie. But the overlapping full back has gone too early, and the flag goes up for offside. Neat move, though.
8 min: Hansen Beckenbauers his way down the inside-left channel. Effortless elegance in motion, like a swan only with less hectic legs. Palace are offering no resistance whatsoever down this flank. Hansen’s cross isn’t all that, a floater that’s snaffled without too much fuss by Martyn. Ah well, nobody’s perfect.
6 min: Some promise for Palace, as Salako quarterbacks from deep, clipping a pass down the left for Barber, who is unceremoniously blocked by Houghton. A free kick, and a chance for Palace to load the box. Thorn and O’Reilly come up. Gray takes, and swings one into the area, shades of Dennis Wise for Wimbledon in the 1988 final. But there’s too much height on the cross for Bright to become the Lawrie Sanchez de nos jours, and Brucie ushers it out for a goal kick.
5 min: Liverpool are getting an awful lot of joy down the left. McMahon and Barnes combine, the latter crossing deep for Houghton, who once again can’t sort his feet out. In a parallel universe somewhere, Houghton has bagged a brace already. Meanwhile here’s Vic Rushton: “I’m eight years old and watching at home. Supporting Palace as the underdog and really like their colourful kit. My dad has just rashly promised that we’d go to the semi final if we (Middlesbrough) ever got there, safe in the knowledge it has never happened nor likely to.”
4 min: Burrows blusters his way into more space down the left. A low diagonal ball nearly finds Rush at the far post, but there’s a little bit too much pace on the cross. Goal kick.
3 min: Pemberton blooters long. It’s a witless gambit, even by Charles Reep standards, and easy pickings for Grobbelaar.
2 min: It looks as though Salako will play out on the Palace left, with Barber pushed further forward. Burrows bombs down the Liverpool left and loops long. Houghton, cutting in from the other flank, attempts a spectacular scissor kick, but doesn’t connect. “As a Palace fan I don’t think we have a hope today,” sighs Sam Smedley. “No Ian Wright and Alan bloody Pardew starting.”
And we’re off! Palace get the ball rolling. Thomas knocks it long down the right, allowing Burrows to tap back to Grobbelaar. Gillespie goes on a baroque ramble down the right and nearly makes it into the box, but Thorn ushers him away. A nice open feel to this already, and barely 60 seconds have elapsed.
The teams are out! A wonderful atmosphere at Villa Park. It’s sunny. King Kenny wears his puffa-puffa jacket anyway. I wonder if Peter Beardsley is eyeing it up? The captains Geoff Thomas – the cover star of the official matchday programme (£1) – and Alan Hansen shake hands. Then they pose for a photo with the officials and mascots. We’ll be off in a minute!
Some supporters have been delayed on the motorway en route to Villa Park, so there are a few empty seats dotted about, but we’re expecting a crowd of 39,000. Liverpool have 23,000 fans, and they fill the North Stand. The famous Holte End is split down the middle, housing both Palace and Liverpool supporters. Palace only sold 16,000 of the 18,000 tickets allocated to them by the FA, but they kept the sale members-only, which explains that ostensibly disappointing figure. The most important news: all fans are thankfully safe and well in the stands. Thoughts will inevitably turn to last year’s semi-final and the dreadful tragedy at Hillsborough. It’s a subject way beyond the remit of this simple MBM, though our hearts go out to the fallen and everyone affected: You’ll Never Walk Alone.
No word from Kenny Dalglish, who famously doesn’t enjoy talking to the media. And who can blame him? Even journalists don’t like journalists. In lieu of pre-match Liverpool chat, here’s PJ Connolly: “My prediction: 7-0. I’ve just been leafing through my official 1990 Liverpool Annual and the double-page spread on the 9-0 is evidence of how this one is going to go. You may think this hubristic for an eight year old for whom this is his first full season as a Liverpool supporter, but I am expecting this to be, as the French might say when we see the inevitable breakthrough in the Channel Tunnel later this year, ‘une piece of [word redacted by Family Newspaper Editor, and while we’re on the subject, where did you learn language like that, young man?]’.”
A word with Steve Coppell, who initially comes across as a raging defeatist but is in fact sending a defiant salvo across the Liverpool bows. “Of course we shouldn’t have a chance. Deep down, I’m sure the players know they are likely to be beaten, too. But I’m equally sure this will make them play even harder to win!”
Palace won the toss to be regarded as the home team here at Villa Park. That means they’ll be playing in their first-choice red-and-blue stripes. Fly Virgin to LA! Liverpool are forced into second-choice sweet-wrapper silver. Can the Candy men? The Candy men can!
No Ian Wright for Palace, as we’ve already touched upon. Garry Thompson, bought from Watford as his stand-in, is cup-tied, so John Salako may be detailed to assist Mark Bright up front.
Peter Beardsley returns to the Liverpool XI, having recovered from a knee injury. Steve Nicol failed a late fitness test and misses out.
Crystal Palace: Nigel Martyn, John Pemberton, Richard Shaw, Andy Gray, Gary O’Reilly, Andy Thorn, Phil Barber, Geoff Thomas, Mark Bright, John Salako, Alan Pardew.
Subs: David Madden, Rudi Hedman.
Liverpool: Bruce Grobbelaar, Glenn Hysen, David Burrows, Gary Gillespie, Ronnie Whelan, Alan Hansen, Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton, Ian Rush, John Barnes, Steve McMahon.
Subs: Barry Venison, Steve Staunton.
Referee: George Courtney (Spennymoor, County Durham).
It’d be fair to say Crystal Palace could do without crossing Liverpool’s path again this season. There’s no need to bring up that 0-9 collapse at Anfield last September again; the insipid 0-2 defeat at Selhurst Park this January, in which star scorer Ian Wright suffered a hairline fracture of the shin, was miserable enough. Suffice to say, if Steve Coppell had the chance to handpick Palace’s opponents for this FA Cup semi-final, it wouldn’t be Kenny Dalglish’s champions-elect.
Liverpool went top of the First Division table last weekend. Back-to-back wins over Southampton and Wimbledon have put them three points clear of Aston Villa with a game in hand, and so an 11th championship in 18 years now looks very much on the cards. They’re favourites to retain their FA Cup, too, hoping to become the first club in the entire history of English football to win the Double twice. They’ve not been at their sparkling best this season, but it doesn’t really matter: so far, their second-gear stylings have proved more than good enough.
Palace by contrast aren’t totally free of relegation worries yet. They’re in 15th spot – one ahead of Alex Ferguson’s misfiring Manchester United – and are still without their stricken talisman Wright. But after the Anfield annihilation, they bolstered their defence with dependable keeper Nigel Martyn and experienced centre-half Andy Thorn. And their recent form has been more than decent: six wins from the last ten in all competitions, a run including victory at Spurs and a win over title hopefuls Villa. Their cup run hasn’t been as spectacular as fellow surprise semi-finalists Oldham Athletic – Portsmouth, Huddersfield, Rochdale, Cambridge United – but you can only beat what’s put in front of you. And it’s generated some much-needed confidence, and a little bit of momentum, during difficult times.
Even so, few expect Palace to set off a seismic shock this lunchtime. They’ll just be hoping not to suffer another gubbing, especially as this game is being transmitted live on BBC1 as part of an epochal double-header with the United-Oldham tie, the two games sandwiching the EastEnders omnibus. So will Liverpool reach their fourth FA Cup final in five seasons? Or can Palace upset odds that are very much stacked against them? We’ll find out before our visit to Albert Square. It’s the first part of the BBC’s all-new super Sunday! It’s the greatest cup competition in the world! It’s on!
Kick off: 12 midday.