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Fa Cup Semi-Final 1976.

Mon Jul 07, 2008 8:36 pm

Thought this might jog a few memories!

FA Cup Semi Final. Saturday April 3, 1976.
Derby County 0 Manchester United 2
at Hillsborough, Sheffield. att. 55,000

Derby County: G.Moseley, R.Thomas, D.Nish, B.Rioch, R.McFarland, C.Todd, S.Powell, A.Gemmill, K.Hector (F.Lee), R.Davies, L.James.

Man United: A.Stepney, A.Forsyth, S.Houston, G.Daly, B.Greenhoff, M.Buchan, S.Coppell, S.McIlroy, S.Pearson, D.McCreery, G.Hill.

FA Cup semi final day 1976 and one tie was undoubtedly demanding the lions share of the attention.

Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty, with typical sensitivity, described his teams' meeting with Derby County as "the first time the cup final has been decided at Hillsborough".

Such dismissive arrogance might have irritated many but he was probably saying exactly what most people actually thought.

United, with their bright young side, were riding high in the first division after their one year exile in the second, and Derby, reigning league champions, were right up there with them.

The game taking place at Stamford Bridge between second division Southampton and third division Crystal Palace looked likely to decide nothing other than who got a nice day out at Wembley.

Certainly Docherty's side began as if they shared his belief that the cup itself was at stake, pressing Derby back with a series of fast early raids.

United's relatively inexperienced midfield quartet settled instantly, passing crisply and switching positions frequently with great purpose.

They could generally count on a numerical advantage in the engine room as well due to the willingness of David McCreery, deputising for the injured Lou Macari, to drop back and join in the approach play.

One such neat, incisive passing move down the left wing involving Gerry Daly, Stewart Houston and Sammy McIlroy earned United an early corner.

Daly lifted the kick to the near post, Houston flicked on but Steve Coppell, dead centre and no more than three yards out, could only stab arkwardly at the ball and lob it, astonishingly, over the bar.

This gaping miss did not deter United and they continued to press.

Derby needed something or somebody to find them a way into the match. Their cultured centre half Colin Todd was generally a man who would grasp a nettle and, probably recognising his sides disadvantage in the middle, stepped out of defence to receive from Steve Powell and launch a counter attack.

Swiftly pushing the ball up to Roger Davies, Todd saw the opportunity and burst forward to support. For a moment United looked stretched but the gangly Davies was not precise with his return pass, knocking it well behind Todd's run.

Suddenly it was United swarming forward and Derby looking exposed. Brian Greenhoff swept the ball up to Gordon Hill, he slipped a clever reverse ball into Daly, moved inside and, when Daly pushed the ball back into his path, took a touch before sending a crisp, curling drive into the wall of the net with Graham Moseley clawing handfuls of thin air.

It was a superb finish and gave United a richly deserved lead. It also ignited an already bubbling atmosphere and sent it into meltdown.

This was the heyday of United's travelling support and the heaving Hillsborough now certainly appeared predominantly red and white.

United continued to hold the upper hand but were now noticably more patient in their attacks. Centre forward Stuart Pearson moved out to the wings cleverly to accept possession and create space for the midfield runners.

The Reds were in command although there was less of a direct goal threat than in the early stages.

Derby, for their part, were struggling to mount any kind of threat on the United goal. Second best in midfield, Davies, Kevin Hector and Leighton James could make no impression at all up front.

Suddenly a chance arrived for the Rams. There was plenty of fortune about the start of the move as Davies charged into a couple of fifty fifties and found the ball running for him, but there was real quality in the one touch exchange between Hector and Rioch that left Davies bursting into the box.

Greenhoff was straining to recover and Alex Stepney raced from his line to close the striker down. Hector was square in front of an open goal but Davies, with little time to think, shot.

Stepney, spreadeagled, saved.

With chances at a premium it was a crucial moment.

United went in at half time good value for their lead, Pearson had almost extended it with a low shot which screwed off McFarland and flashed just wide.

The second half continued in the same vein, Derby striving for openings but coming up with little against the willing Greenhoff and the excellent Martin Buchan.

The introduction of Francis Lee for Hector had made no impact until the veteran striker slid a clever ball along the left touchline into Rioch's path.

Striding to the by-line Rioch sent over a centre straight onto Davies' head at the far post. With the angle against him and with James unmarked in the middle Davies once again went for goal, sending a tame header straight into the arms of Stepney.

On his day Davies could be explosive, on this day, unfortunately, he was a liability.

Then came a moment of high controversy. Derby were now throwing men forward desperately but the United rearguard would not be breached.

Rioch and Archie Gemmill had shots charged down from the edge of the area and as the ball bounced clear the United defence charged out as one to play offside.

Collecting the ball forty yards out, David Nish appraised the situation instantly, lobbed the ball over the advancing red barrier and strode forward to collect it as it dropped.

Nish was completely clear but, with at least five white shirts standing offside, the linesmans' flag went up and although Nish went on to put the ball past a stationary Stepney the "goal" would not count.

These were the days long before the concept of not interfering with play would be introduced but it was clear that Nish had not intended his lob forward as a pass.

It was a judgement call and, with a stand full of baying Red Devils behind him, the linesman called it in United's favour.

Five minutes from time United were themselves caught offside and Derby piled men forward for the free kick.

Nish's delivery was woeful, however, and only reached Coppell, standing alone, midway inside his own half. Sixty yards later his run was ended by a combination of Nish and Powell just outside the Derby box at the expense of a free kick.

Hill stepped forward and clipped a shot for the far post which Moseley would surely have dealt with but for a huge deflection off Powell which sent the ball looping well out of his reach and into the net.

Once more the ground was in uproar and this time the game was well and truly up.

There was still time for Greenhoff to come charging out of defence, play a one two with Pearson, turn Rod Thomas inside and out before sending a low drive just the wrong side of the post.

The game ended sourly, Rioch raking his studs viciously down McIlroy's calf as he played keep ball by the touchline and then smashing a solid palm into the Irishman's throat as he went to remonstrate.

The referee dealt with the situation the easy way by blowing for full time which at least allowed one of United's long haired, wide flared, denim jacketted, scarf wristed followers to nip onto the pitch and aim a retributory kick at Rioch whilst hundreds of others invaded to cheer off their heroes.

Such were the seventies.

As for Docherty's comment about the cup being decided at Hillsborough? Least said soonest mended really, Tommy.

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