Road to Wembley: FA Cup Semi-Finals
Due to a variety of personal situations, it has been a while since I was able to write an update on the FA Cup though I have continued to follow each round. When last I wrote, I was following the fate of Bury. They lost to Southampton in the fourth round. Southampton went on to be upset by Bristol Rovers in the fifth round and Rovers were thrashed by West Bromich Albion in the sixth round.
I’ve been following West Brom’s fate in the Championship this season and have been hoping they will make it into the promotion mix. They play an up-tempo, entertaining brand of football under Tony Mowbray. The Baggies were narrowly edged out of promotion last season, losing the play-off final 1-0 to Derby County and I have to think they would have fared better in the Premier League than the Rams have thus far.
West Brom have a strong history in the FA Cup having won in 1888, 1892, 1931, 1954 and 1968 while also claiming the runners-up spot in 1886, 1887, 1895, 1912, and 1935.
Anyhow, West Brom are matched up against Premier League side Portsmouth, who are coming off an upset win over Manchester United in the last round. Portsmouth are favoured but I have every belief that West Brom can win this match. West Brom’s attack is lead by Championship Player of The Year Kevin Phillips, who currently has 22 goals despite being sidelined for six weeks with a knee injury.
Pompey boss Harry Redknapp will be aware of the threat of Phillips, having worked with the ex-England international during his brief stint at Southampton. Phillips is far from the Baggie’s only threat. From the midfield, Zoltán Gera and Jonathan Greening are important in creating the scoring opportunities and nabbing the odd goal for themselves. Meanwhile, Roman Bednár (on loan from Hearts) has scored 15 goals in 23 appearances including the winning spot-kick in the penalty shootout against Charlton Athletic in the FA Cup third round.
Portsmouth are targeting their first post-war final. They won the FA Cup in 1939 and have the unusual distinction of holding the FA Cup for the longest uninterrupted period as the trophy wasn’t contested again until the 1945-46 season because league football was again suspended due to World War II. Pompey have reached the last four six times now and are looking toward a fourth appearance in the final (previous appearances in 1929, 1934 and 1939).
This is the first time in a century that only one top-flight club has qualified for the FA Cup semi-finals. West Bromwich can make history by knocking out Portsmouth, because that would guarantee an all-Championship final. It would be the first time since the league was formed in 1888, that both finalists had come from outside the top division.
The other semi-final features Barnsley and Cardiff City. The English FA site has a great article on Barnsley’s on-loan keeper Luke Steele. Steele, ironically enough, was sitting on the West Bromwich Albion bench as their third choice goalkeeper before receiving a call from Barnsley who were in need of an emergency loan due to injuries. Now, Steele finds himself at Wembley in a massive game for the South Yorkshire club.
Barnsley are also a former FA Cup winner, having claimed the prize in 1912 when they beat West Bromwich Albion. Like Portsmouth, Barnsley also hold a record of sorts having spent more seasons in the second tier of English football than any other club in history.
Barnsley have nurtured some fine talents over the years who have gone on to be successful at other clubs. The most notable of these is Tommy Taylor, who was a prolific goalscorer (26 goals in 44 appearances) for Barnsley in the early 1950s before moving on to win two league titles with Manchester United (as well as scoring 16 times in 19 England internationals). Tragically Taylor was killed in the Munich air disaster of 1958.
I’ve absolutely nothing against Cardiff City but I’m cheering for Barnsley in this match. After knocking out Liverpool at Anfield, Barnsley took on Chelsea and amazingly were able to repeat their giant-killing heroics once more to make it into the last four. Kayode Odejayi (pictured above) was Barnsley’s Cup hero against the holders Chelsea, and was been voted ‘Player of the Round’ after his goal caused a sensational upset at Oakwell and put the Tykes in the semis.
Cardiff City are looking to capture the FA Cup for the first time in 81 years and some of the numbers favour the Wales-based club making it to the final. This season’s league fixture at the Oakwell was a 1-1 draw. Cardiff did the double over Barnsley last season and the South Yorkshire club have not beaten the Welshmen since a home league victory back in November 2002.
Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Robbie Fowler are the two big names Cardiff can call upon but also have a number of other dependable players like Darren Purse, Trevor Sinclair and Kevin McNaughton.
I don’t expect this match to be a classic display of football as both are struggling but it should be a passionate battle nonetheless. The Tykes enter the weekend with only goal difference keeping them out of the Championship relegation zone. The Bluebirds are in mid-table in the Championship, 10 points better off than Barnsley.
In recent years the talk of “magic” surrounding the FA Cup rung a little hollow but it is certainly back this year and it has been a thrilling ride. Who’ll be at Wembley for the final? We’ll know after this weekend.
Enjoy the matches!