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When the FA took the decision to build their new national football stadium on the site of the old Wembley Stadium they knew it was going to require a massive outlay. Among the steps taken by the FA to ensure Wembley would eventually pay for itself was the decision to hold the FA Cup semi finals at the national stadium in a break from the tradition in which they used to be held in neutral grounds around the country.
That move created a fairly big row. The traditionalists argued that the FA Cup final should remain the blue-riband event of the English football season and that holding the semi finals at Wembley devalues the final itself. The opposite argument goes that semi finals should be huge events in their own right and that there is nothing wrong with giving fans of more teams the chance to have a big day out at Wembley.
The new Wembley Stadium has been the host to some excellent FA Cup semi finals since Portsmouth beat West Brom in 2008. We’ve had a look back at five of the very best Wembley semi finals below to whet the appetite ahead of the 2019 semis.
Stoke 5-0 Bolton (2011)
You have to go back to 1908 for the last time an FA Cup semi final was won by a bigger margin than Stoke’s 5-0 win over Bolton in the first 2011 semi final. The Potters did not go into their first trip to the new Wembley Stadium as the clear favourites with the bookies and it was actually Bolton who had the first chance of the afternoon when Gary Cahill came close to scoring a screamer from the edge of the area. It took only a matter of minutes for the pattern of the game to be changed entirely though with Matt Etherington opening the scoring on 11 minutes through a well-placed shot from over 20 yards.
The veteran Bolton full back, Paul Robinson, gave the ball away to Etherington for the opener and it was another poor clearance from a trademark Rory Delap long throw that led to the second goal which came from another impressive strike from distance by Robert Huth.
By this time Owen Coyle was cutting a very worried figure in the Stoke technical area but things got even worse for the Bolton manager on the half hour mark when the same pattern of Bolton giving the ball away followed by an excellent Stoke finish saw Kenwyne Jones make it 3-0. It was Jon Walters who made Bolton pay for giving the ball away next with arguably the best finish of the day before he doubled his personal tally and made it five goals for Stoke after yet more terrible Bolton defending.
In truth, this was not a match of the highest quality away from the excellent finishing, but it did mark perhaps the high point of Tony Pulis’s time in charge of the team. His Stoke side will not be fondly remembered by many neutrals but those Potters fans at Wembley that day will remember the thumping win for a very long time even if they did end up losing the final to Manchester City.
Liverpool 2-1 Everton (2012)
The rivalry between Liverpool and Everton is among the most storied in world football. The FA Cup and Wembley Stadium has played a big role in the history between the two clubs and the 2012 semi final was the first time they’d met in at the new Wembley Stadium in what was the 218th Merseyside derby.
The early exchanges were even enough, with chances for both teams, but it was Everton who struck first as Nikica Jelavic pounced on a communication breakdown between Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger. The delight of the blue side of Merseyside turned to horror in the second half though due to an even worse defensive mistake by Sylvain Distin. His back pass barely made it halfway to Tim Howard and was intercepted by Luis Suarez, who promptly made it 1-1.
Although Everton put that mistake behind them and got back into the game it was Liverpool who scored the deciding goal when Andy Carroll finally took a chance following a string of misses when he headed home a Craig Bellamy free kick from close range. A typically frenetic Merseyside derby ended with delight for the Liverpool fans and their manager Kenny Dalglish but they were unable to stop Chelsea getting their hands on the FA Cup in the final the following month.
Hull 5-3 Sheffield United (2014)
Hull and Sheffield United both had high hopes of winning the FA Cup when they went into the draw for the 2014 semi finals. They were raised further when both teams avoided Arsenal in the semi final draw. It was clear from the start of their semi final in 2014 that both Steve Bruce and Nigel Clough believed that their opponent was there for the taking as they took an attacking approach to the match which was appreciated by all the neutrals who tuned into the match.
It was Sheffield United who took the lead courtesy of Jose Baxter. Although Hull got back on level terms it was the League One side who went into the break with the lead as Stefan Scougall scored just before half time.
You can only imagine how angry Steve Bruce was with his players at half time. The experienced manager could not believe that Hull were in danger of throwing away such a golden opportunity and whatever he said to his players in the Wembley changing rooms clearly had a major impact as the Tigers roared in the second half. Three goals inside 20 minutes saw Hull take a 4-2 lead.
Even when Sheffield United threatened a late comeback with a 90th minute goal, Hull wouldn’t let them back in and scored again in the 93rd minute to make this match the highest scoring FA Cup semi final of all time.
Arsenal 2-1 Reading AET (2015)
Hull took the momentum generated by their high scoring win over Sheffield United into the FA Cup final where they raced to a 2-0 lead over Arsenal inside 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the Tigers were unable to hang on and ultimately lost the final in extra time. That win saw Arsenal go into the 2015 FA Cup semi finals with an immense amount of confidence, as the defending champions there was a feeling around the Gunners that they felt right at home at the new Wembley Stadium.
Arsenal’s record was just one reason why they went into their semi final against Reading as such heavy favourites with the bookmakers. The Royals weren’t exactly setting the world alight in the Championship and Arsenal really came alive in the FA Cup despite some missteps in the Premier League.
When Martin Atkinson blew the whistle for half time the semi final was going to plan for Arsenal. The Gunners held a 1-0 lead thanks to another Wembley goal for Alexis Sanchez and they were borderline unbackable in the betting to see out the win. Reading hadn’t read the script though. They came out with a do or die attitude in the second half and had the game level inside 10 minutes of the second half.
The game didn’t quite have the drama of Arsenal 7-5 win over Reading from a few years earlier in the League Cup but there was plenty of entertainment in the second half as the Royals kept Arsenal at bay. The Premier League side made their quality tell in the end though when Sanchez scored again in stoppage time of the first half of extra time. Reading ended the match feeling proud of the effort they gave in the best traditions of the FA Cup, whilst Arsenal went on to the final and their successful FA Cup defence.
Chelsea 4-2 Tottenham (2017)
We’ve already seen that local rivalries can add something special to an FA Cup semi final at Wembley Stadium. That’s particularly true when that rivalry stems from London with many of the Chelsea and Tottenham fans who went to their 2017 semi final living close to Wembley Stadium. The number of locals in the stadium really added something to the atmosphere for what became a semi final to remember.
The bookies’ odds always suggested that this was going to be a close run thing with neither side particularly favoured by punters. The extra experience among the Chelsea ranks in terms of playing in the latter stages of the FA Cup gave them the edge in the eyes of some pundits and that looked to be a wise reading of things when Willian scored a free kick after just four minutes. It took Spurs just over 10 minutes to strike back though through Harry Kane but it was Chelsea who went into half time with the lead as Willian secured his brace on 43 minutes.
Dele Alli got Tottenham right back in the game shortly into the second half and his team had a few chances to take the lead but the game was turned on its head when Antonio Conte introduced Diego Costa and Eden Hazard off the bench. The former made a nuisance of himself whilst the latter scored the third goal which proved to be decisive before a thunderbolt from Nemanja Matic sealed Tottenham’s fate.