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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 12:40 GMT
The greatest comeback ever?
By Tom Fordyce

Spurs players and fans stand dejected at full-time
Spurs players and fans stand dejected as the horror sinks in

Kevin Keegan has called it the greatest cup match he has ever seen. Alan Hansen agreed. David Pleat was simply "shell-shocked".

But just why does Manchester City's 4-3 win over Spurs deserve to be called the greatest comeback of all time? Read on, my friends, read on.....

PRE-MATCH FORM

City were in a slump so severe that they had won just one of their previous 18 league and cup games.

They have spiralled down the Premiership table, been beset by rumours of dressing-room unrest and seen their high-profile signings grab more tabloid headlines than goals.

The chances of them winning at White Hart Lane were statistically remote.

Or were they?

THE SHAMEFUL START

Barely had the City fans found their seats when the carnage began. When a team like City go a goal down in two minutes, you know there's trouble ahead.

When the goal in question is a delicate curler from the left boot of Ledley King, the sense of doom becomes overwhelming.

Fast-forward 41 more dismal minutes, factor in two more Tottenham goals taken with aplomb and there can only be one result - can't there?

THE SENDING-OFF

3-0 down at half-time. It could barely get any worse.

Oops. Off goes Joey Barton for giving the referee an earfull. Now City are down to 10 men - and leading scorer Nicolas Anelka has already limped off with hamstring trouble.

Tranmere's comeback from 3-0 against Southampton three years ago was special. But even they did it with the full complement of players.

THE SAVE

This was the first game that goalkeeper Arni Arason had ever played for City. Kevin Keegan had never even seen him play before.

His first touch of the ball was to pick it out of the net after King's opener. After 43 minutes and two more goals, he must have wished he had stayed at home in Iceland.

Then, with Sylvain Distin giving City a lifeline, Arason pulled off a double save that either David James or David Seaman would have been proud of.

Tipping Christian Ziege's deflected free-kick onto the bar was spectacular enough. Getting back up and across to snatch Gus Poyet's follow-up from the gaping jaws of the goal almost defied belief.

THE WRIGHT STUFF

The name of Tottenham's chief tormentor was horribly familiar to the White Hart Lane faithful.

Losing a 3-0 lead at home is bad. Very bad. But when the man pulling the strings is the son of an Arsenal legend, it makes it just that little bit worse.

THE TIMING

Think about the great cup comebacks and they almost inevitably feature an extra-time winner.

City didn't need that. They scored four goals without reply in the second half alone. And when the winner went in, that was it. There was barely time for David Pleat to lift his jaw off the floor.

It's a tremendous sporting cliché, but this time it's true - you really couldn't make it up.

...AND THE SCORER

Remember the Spurs-City FA Cup final of 1981? On that occasion, it was Ricky Villa who ended the first game in despair only to finish the replay a hero.

For Villa, read Jon Macken. Vilified for missing a simple chance that would have won City the original tie, he came on as sub in the replay and won the game with a clever header in the very last minute.

DEAN'S DEJA-VU

Poor old Dean Richards. He made his Spurs debut the day they cruised to a 3-0 lead over Manchester United - and then conceded five without reply.

He was also at the heart of the Southampton defence on that terrible night at Tranmere.

He must dread a 3-0 lead like most men fear death itself.

CUP KINGS NO MORE

Once upon a time, Spurs were the one team above all others who you would associate with FA Cup success.

Not any more. Wednesday night's shocker was just the latest in a long line of cup catastrophes.

Last year they were thumped 4-0 by Southampton in front of a prime-time terrestrial television audience. In 2002 Chelsea thrashed them by the same scoreline at home.

The year before that, arch-enemies Arsenal played them off the pitch to a humiliating extent in their semi-final clash. And in 1999 they were tanked 6-1 by Newcastle at St James' Park.

Is it time they called it quits?

KEEGAN'S CONTEXT

Bless him. Which of us doesn't have a soft spot for Kevin Keegan, even if we wouldn't necessarily want him managing our team?

This is a man who, as Newcastle manager, twice found himself on the end of famous 4-3 defeats by Liverpool. The look on his face at the end of the first of those could have brought tears to the eyes of statue.

At half-time, 3-0 down, Keegan was facing the sack. 45 minutes later, he was babbling away like the Keegan of old, happiness smeared all over his chops like a five-year-old on Christmas morning.

Who could begrudge him a single second of that joy?





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