Sportsmail's experts recall their horror days in competitions

The perils of facing minnows: Sportsmail’s experts recall their most embarrassing FA Cup scrapes that include Manchester City’s stars scraping a draw at Notts County, Mark Hughes getting sacked and an awful knee injury for Jamie Redknapp

  • FA Cup third round brings expectations of upsets across the weekend
  • Many will be hoping the likes of Marine and Chorley can stun Spurs and Derby
  • Although the non-league sides are rank outsiders they will still hope for an upset
  • Sportsmail’s experts recall their woes when facing underdogs in the cups 

The FA Cup third round is one of the most highly anticipated occasions on the English football calendar but for Premier League footballers it can also be one of the most daunting.

This weekend the likes of Tottenham Hotspur will be expected to breeze past eighth tier side Marine but they will have to be on guard for being on the end of what could be one of the biggest cup shocks of all time.

Sportsmail’s team of experts have endured their share of slip ups against minnows as they recall their darkest days playing underdogs in cups.


FA Cup games: 46 FA Cup goals: 18 Winners’ medal: 2006

Coventry City 2-1 Stoke City – FA Cup third round, January 2018 

You cannot win as a Premier League player in round three. When I was at Liverpool, we had a couple of bad days in the FA Cup.

We went behind at home to Havant & Waterlooville, in round four, in 2008, and that was absolutely awful. We ended up battering them but for the minutes we were behind, we were facing the ultimate embarrassment. 

Peter Crouch (background right) walks off dejected with Stoke City team-mates after they were dumped out of the FA Cup by League Two side Coventry City in January 2018

In the next round, we were drawn at home to Barnsley. When you play for Liverpool and get drawn against lower league opposition this is the situation that faces you: if you win and you score a hat-trick, everyone shrugs and says, ‘So what?’ If you lose, you become a laughing stock. We lost.

My biggest nightmare, however, was at the Ricoh Arena with Stoke. We were abysmal. The performance was embarrassing and we were beaten 2-1. That result, unfortunately, was the breaking point for Mark Hughes.

We made the short journey back up the M6 to our training ground in Clayton Woods and when we pulled into the car park, there were two cars by the entrance to the complex — one belonged to the chairman, the other belonged to the chief executive.

Immediately, all the players looked at each other and knew what was coming. Mark, sadly, ended up losing his job. It was a horrendous way to end a dreadful day. The following year we ended up losing to Shrewsbury at home. For a kid who grew up absolutely adoring the FA Cup and who won it in 2006, it was a nightmare way to end my association as a player with the competition.

The defeat ended up being the last game in charge for then Potters’ manager Mark Hughes


FA Cup games: 22 FA Cup goals: 3 Winners’ medals: 1992 and 2001

Liverpool 0-1 Bristol City – FA Cup third round, January 1994

I remember this defeat for more than losing to lower-league opposition. It was also Graeme Souness’s final match as Liverpool manager, and the first time my knee broke down. We had drawn 1-1 at Ashton Gate and brought it back to our place. Bristol City weren’t quite ‘minnows’ — they were in the division below and had some good players. But we shouldn’t have been losing to them.

Souness was under pressure. He had been great to me. He’d given me my Liverpool debut at 18 and I didn’t want him to go. Just before the break, I side-foot a pass and feel something go in my knee. I remember thinking: ‘That’s not right.’ 

Bristol City striker Brian Tinnion (left)  scores to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup in 1994

We get back into the dressing room at half-time, and as I go to get up, my knee is locked. I can’t move it, can’t stand up, and clearly can’t play. Souness is one of the hardest men in football. He is feeling the heat and I have to tell him I can’t go out for the second half. I call the doctor over. I say I’ve never had a sensation like this before. All I wanted to do was get back out there, but I can’t.

God knows what the gaffer was thinking. We go on to lose 1-0, and it’s a gutting result. The boys are booed at full time. There are chants of ‘Souness out’ and Teletext later publishes a poll in which 80-odd per cent say he should go.

It turns out I’d torn my meniscus and the next day, I have surgery. I wake up from the operation to discover Souness is set for the exit. You never want to be on the end of a giant-killing.

In some of these matches, I’d find myself thinking: ‘You’re such a good player. How are you only playing in that division?’ That’s the nature of these games. You should never underestimate the underdogs. Some players simply know how to rise to the occasion.

Graeme Souness (second right) resigned as manager shortly after his side’s defeat in the Cup


Notts County 1-1 Manchester City – FA Cup fourth round, January 2011

The first trophy of Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi era was 10 minutes away from not happening at all. In the fourth round of the FA Cup, in 2011, we had been drawn away to Notts County. They were in League One and managed by Paul Ince.

We had made heavy investment in our team that season and Roberto Mancini picked a strong side. It was one with an English core as Joe Hart was in goal, James Milner, Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and I started, as did Patrick Vieira.

Notts County’s Neal Bishop (third left) jumps to score against Manchester City

It wasn’t that we played badly but we couldn’t find a way through in the first 45 minutes and then, early in the second half, we went behind to a goal from Neal Bishop. There were only 30 minutes left when he scored and, believe me, panic set in. Of course, you try to stay cool, calm and collected but at the back of your mind you are thinking: ‘Please, no. Not here, not now.’

Mancini lost his marbles in anger the closer it got to full time and my abiding memory is of him screaming: ‘Richards! Richards! ******* attack! Attack!’ as we tried to score. Eventually, we found a way through and I provided the cross for Edin Dzeko to equalise late in the day. It was his first goal in English football.

There was no such problem in the replay, as we won 5-0. But the nerves that spread as we contemplated the idea of going out were awful. That’s why the FA Cup is so good. It doesn’t matter how powerful you think your team are or what form you are in — the underdogs always have a chance.

Micah Richards (left) battles for the ball with Notts County’s Lee Hughes in 2011


Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Trelleborg and Trelleborg 2-2 Blackburn Rovers – UEFA Cup first round, September 1994 

Let me step away from the FA Cup for a moment, because if we’re talking losing to minnows, I have to discuss Blackburn, the UEFA Cup and 1994.

What made this defeat doubly worse was the fact we had two bites at it. In the same season we went on to win the Premier League, Blackburn exited Europe to Swedish part-timers Trelleborg. We lost the first leg 1-0 at Ewood Park and that was bad.

Alan Shearer and I were up front and Tom Prahl, the Trelleborg coach who was also a teacher, said afterwards: ‘We’d have been satisfied to head home with a 2-0 defeat.’

Trelleborg’s players were promised 200 Swedish crowns at half-time if they could score — the equivalent of £20 — and they earned it. A chap called Fredrik Sandell handed them the 1-0 win in the 71st minute. His day job was to supply ink to newspapers. You can imagine the headlines weren’t too kind to us after this. We were utterly embarrassed.

Trelleborg had come through qualifying to make it into the first round and, as if to make us feel worse, Prahl also admitted: ‘We’re not even among the top five or six teams in Sweden.’

Chris Sutton’s (left) Blackburn Rovers, who went on to become Premier League champions, were stung twice by Trelleborg in the UEFA Cup first round in 1994

We figured we’d sort it out in the second leg. We didn’t. We drew 2-2 in Sweden to this assortment of butchers, bankers, salesmen and a rat-catcher. I scored, then an accountant called Joachim Karlsson equalised. Shearer scored, then Karlsson equalised again! They were even down to 10 men!

The headline in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph was: ‘Trell-ible.’ No arguing with that. Trelleborg went through, and well done to them. This haunted me, mind — Henrik Larsson enjoyed reminding me of it when we played together at Celtic. As the cliché goes, at least Blackburn got to concentrate on the Premier League… and we can have no regrets in that competition. 


Crewe Alexandra 2-3 Aston Villa – FA Cup third round, January 1989 

It’s more of a 45-minute loss to a minnow, this, but a match worth remembering for what happened at half-time to ensure we didn’t exit the FA Cup in embarrassment.

Aston Villa were in the First Division. Crewe Alexandra were in the Fourth Division. We are supposed to breeze beyond them, but we concede twice and they lead 2-0 at half-time. One of those came courtesy of me, by the way, in what was later described as a ‘spectacular diving own goal’.

Martin Keown (left) recalls Aston Villa manager Graham Taylor (right) sending him and his team-mates straight back out for the second half after going 2-0 down to Crewe Alexandra

We walk into the dressing room and our manager Graham Taylor isn’t happy. All he says is: ‘Well you’ve got yourselves into this mess, and you can get yourselves out of it.’ That’s it. He says that, then sends us straight back out. It’s in you come, out you go.

We’re playing on your typical frosty pitch in January. You don’t want to be standing out there in silly shorts any longer than you have to be. But on Taylor’s orders, we’re out. The supporters are in the stands. They’re wrapped up, munching on their pies and telling us how rubbish we are. 

We’re huddled together waiting for the second half to start. But what Taylor did worked. We scored three times to win 3-2 and avoid this giant-killing. It does feel as if some of the magic of the FA Cup is lost without fans. Away teams this weekend, such as Leeds, Tottenham and Brighton, don’t have the added obstacle of having to cope with home support being on their backs.

For the lower-league sides and their supporters, this can be their day in the sun — even if these third-round ties are at the coldest time of the year.

Villa managed to turn the game around eventually squeezing through as 3-2 winners

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