Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sat 16 February 2008

SPAOTP's Road to Wembley: FA Cup 5th Round Proper

The Fourth Round of this season's FA Cup (sponsored by E.On) gave us an absolute corker of a match when our team, Havant and Waterlooville, met the might of Liverpool at Anfield. Heavily expected to be pulverised to within an inch of their lives, non-league Havant and Waterlooville took the fight to Rafa's men and were in the lead twice in the first half before eventually losing out 5-2 at the final whistle.

Havant and Waterlooville did us proud on the day and rightly earned plaudits from all quarters for the way they refused to be overshadowed and outclassed for much of that tie. Sadly though, we must bid them farewell as we progress to Round Five along our Road to Wembley and for the first time we give our support to a Premier League team for the first time. For the less observant amongst you, we today follow Liverpool as they play host to Championship side Barnsley at Anfield.

Now at this point we'd normally tell you stuff about our featured team that you didn't already know, i.e. some of the players in their squad, their season so far, their manager and so on, but we figure you already know a lot about The Reds, so let's look at their track record in the FA Cup over the last twenty seasons.

The first thing that strikes you is that Liverpool are a team that have had more success than most in the competition over the past two decades, particularly towards the beginning of that period. Between the 1987/88 and 1991/92 seasons, Liverpool won the trophy twice, were runners-up once and reached the semi-finals once. Liverpool were a team riding high back then, but decent Cup runs were to become less regular with each passing season after that.

1993 and 1994 saw The Reds exit at the first hurdle, losing out to lowly Bolton and a slightly-less-lowly Bristol City in each case before a return to the Final came around again in 1996. On that occasion, a late Eric Cantona goal put paid to Liverpool's chances signalling another return to numerous Third and Fourth Round runs before 2001 when the Anfield side tasted glory once again.

It was the first time since 1922 that the FA Cup Final had been played somewhere other than Wembley, but Liverpool didn't seem to mind as they took on Arsenal at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. Though the Final itself was largely forgettable - particularly the first half, Liverpool sprang into life after conceding a goal with 18 minutes left through Freddie Ljungberg. Michael Owen became the hero of the day when he popped up with two goals to give Liverpool their first FA Cup win since their 1992 win over Sunderland.

In typical fashion, this peak in their recent Cup history would precede a fall that lasted for four long seasons including a Third Round defeat to Burnley in 2005. They needn't have worried for The Reds returned again victorious in (ironically) the last Final to be played in Cardiff in 2006.

It was a classic, roundly regarded as one of the greatest Cup Finals ever. Liverpool faced West Ham who, themselves, had enjoyed a good season, finishing just six places below Liverpool who ended their Premier League campaign in third spot.

Much like Liverpool's previous Cup Final in 2001, they found themselves going behind but this time they conceded a goal early on and not just once, but twice. With half an hour of the game gone, Liverpool were 2-0 down, but Djibril Cisse was on hand to volley a goal back shortly after and when Steven Gerrard volleyed in an equaliser after 55 minutes, the Final was set for a tense ending.

Nine minutes on from Gerrard's effort, Paul Konchesky's floating cross caught out Reina and went in to give The Hammers the lead again but with seconds remaining Gerrard arrived once more to smash home another equaliser to finish normal time at 3-3.

Extra time came and went without much incident and penalties were called for. It was here that West Ham showed a lack of experience that Liverpool used to their advantage. Bobby Zamora and Konchesky missed with their efforts either side of a Teddy Sheringham goal, and with only Sami Hyppia having missed from the first three kicks for Liverpool it was left to John Arne Riise to score the decisive third goal before Reina saved from Anton Ferdinand.

The Reds were handed the FA Cup for the seventh time, thereby meaning only three clubs have won the trophy more than them - Man United, Arsenal and Tottenham. They look set to be a major player in the future of the competition for many years to come just as they have been for many years, but just as last season they're also highly susceptible to early exits and even defeats to lesser teams.

Will they overcome Barnsley today? We shall see...

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