26th January 1997 : FA Cup Fourth Round
Can there ever have been a greater comeback in Chelsea's history? Surely not! No game famously won by the blues was ever more important than this, with the prospect of marching on to Wembley with our new found supremacy and winning the FA Cup in the memory of Mathew Harding.
Let's not under-estimate our achievements here though: admiration for our performance on that glorious day was not restricted to the sway of ecstatic Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge, or those transported there whilst watching on the TV or listening to the radio (as I was, whilst travelling from Cheddar Gorge in the car with my father and three sons).
These are just some of the words from the Times report on the match: "memorable", "stunning", "sensational", "breathless", "scintillating", "tumultuous".
Here's what the Telegraph had to say:
Chelsea, suddenly enlivened, scored four times, every one a hammer blow to Liverpool, in this classic fourth-round tie. Those recidivists who argue that stadiums have become atmosphere-free shells without standing areas should have been at a tumultuous Bridge.
How the Chelsea supporters danced as disbelief turned to delight and delirium. How the Blue Flag flew high last night, flew high because Chelsea responded to the challenge laid down by an initially imperious Liverpool, who had run the first half through the cultured contributions of John Barnes and Steve McManaman. Such was Liverpool's control, and Chelsea's defensive fragility, that soon the Merseyside thousands were crowing as their idols moved smoothly ahead through Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore. After nine minutes they were ahead following a typically incisive dart by McManaman. Twice he played a part in the build-up before Stig Inge Bjornebye's cross was turned in instinctively by Fowler. Worse befell Chelsea after 20 minutes. Zola, under pressure from Mark Wright, gave an awkward ball to Eddie Newton, whose pass was stolen by Collymore. One touch moved the ball into a perfect shooting position; Collymore's arrogant second swept the ball under Kevin Hitchcock.
Here was a test of Chelsea's character. How they responded. From manager to every man on the field, Chelsea's second-half attitude was all about recovery, equality and then superiority. Much praise should go to Ruud Gullit. The Bridge's young manager, who responded to Liverpool's first-half taunts with a smile and a signal that he knew his side were 2-0 down, faced a real examination of his managerial capacities.
Having mistakenly excluded Mark Hughes from his starting line-up, Gullit responded by at last introducing the combative Welshman, who came out of the tunnel for the second half like a lion seeking a kill. Hughes immediately provided the touch of adhesion and aggression Chelsea so desperately needed in the final third, scoring quickly and engendering genuine belief among the home ranks.
Hughes's feisty, distracting presence also liberated Gianluca Vialli and Gianfranco Zola, two Italians who showed their qualities and finishing with the remaining goals. Zola was terrific, making runs, making plans and making dashes back to thwart Liverpool incursions. Chelsea's victory was a triumph for team-work from exceptional individuals. The success was also rooted in another tactical tweak by Gullit. Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea's third Italian, was pushed further forward to stifle Barnes, who became a conductor without a baton. Gullit called this the "vital change", adding: "Barnes couldn't have the ball." This was a key alteration.
New half, new story. Not even the original Zola could have devised as dramatic a plot shift as this. But then that Zola was all J'accuse and not Mark Hughes. On bounded a man who always relishes confrontations with Liverpool, a man clearly determined to make up for lost time. Within four minutes Chelsea had Liverpool within range. Steve Clarke placed the ball on Hughes's chest and the rest was a trip down memory lane. Hughes, shrugging Wright, turned and shot past David James.
A Chelsea fan's view (click the picture for the mpeg movie) …………… " the first half. Something was missing. We weren't linking up, and the passing fluency wasn't there. We weren't penetrating their defence and at two down I'm sure we started to think of an Anfield score. We managed to joke at half time when 'The Rabbit', from our 1955 title winning team now aged 73 was introduced to the crowd, and we shouted 'Bring him on, bring him on, bring him on'. Then John Dempsey: 'Bring him on, bring him on, bring him on'. Jakob Kjeldeberg, the injured Mike Duberry, the Woking keeper and even a 14 year old schoolboy who was signing his Chelsea papers got the chorus. Elsewhere 2 wives went into labour and a daughter was born to some fan. And we wondered if Ruud would bring Hughes on, as we had nothing left to lose. And out came Hughesie …". (Nicholas Harrison)
Chelsea's tails were up. Liverpool, with Barnes tamed, looked vulnerable, again lacking that ruthlessness which set their legendary predecessors apart. Hughes harried them into submission. Just before the hour, he slid out a boot to win the ball off Barnes. It was seized on by Zola, the Sardinian with fire in his boots. What a shot he produced, the ball raging past James from 20 yards.
A Liverpool fan's view (click the picture for the mpeg movie) …………"The best strike of the day was Franco Zola's curling shot that James didn't stand a chance for and suddenly it was back at 2 apiece". (Alex Brown)
A Chelsea fan's view …………… "All I saw was 11 men in the second half, who played out of their skin. Ruud said afterwards that he'd put Di Matteo on Barnes in the second half and kept him out of the game. I'll confess that I never saw that. Instead I saw men committed to getting the ball out of our half, away from our goal, and into theirs. I remember Frank Leboeuf (He's here, he's there, he's every-***king-where, Frank LeBoeuf, Frank LeBoeuf) sliding in so sweetly to pluck the ball from Fowler or McManaman and set-up another racing attack, with Zola rocketing away down the right, with Hughes bombing up the centre and Vialli haring up the left. ". (Nicholas Harrison)
The Welsh and Italians seemed to be settling some old score with England. Back they came, ignoring the odd skirmish between Wise and McManaman, to take the lead after 62 minutes. Zola released Petrescu, accurate passing carrying Chelsea into the danger area. Petrescu looked up and chipped a perfect pass through to Vialli, who flicked the ball haughtily with the outside of his right boot past James.
A Chelsea fan's view (click the picture for the mpeg movie) ……………"In the Matthew Harding Lower Stand we stood for the whole of the second half. Well, not stood - we jumped, bounced, slapped hands, hugged and shouted our throats raw. If someone had told me to sit down I would have been physically unable as the excitement was so intense as to be almost unbearable. 20 minutes to go and 3-2 up I didn't think my heart could take it. The noise, especially as it ricocheted of the base of the Upper Stand was deafening. I'm sure us fans were a twelfth player on the pitch. We sang all the songs. No one was embarrassed. You started up a song and maybe it caught on or it didn't. No-one cared, because the support was all that mattered. And when our voices were giving out we just roared. No words, just an inchoate roar. And we just clapped. Not to any song, but just caught up in the sheer delirium of the fact that were going to stuff the scousers; that we were BLUE and by God we were proud of it". (Nicholas Harrison)
Liverpool could find no response to this adversity. In freefall, they collapsed again when Patrik Berger fouled Vialli out on the right. Zola strode over, placed the ball and lifted a pin-point delivery on to Vialli's head. The ball was past James before he could move.
A Chelsea fan's view (click the picture for the mpeg movie) ………"I remember 2 choruses of "Hanson, Hanson what's the score"; "You're going home, you're going, your going. Scousers going home" after the fourth goal went in; Hitchcock waving his arms at us, encouraging us to sing even louder; and the players coming over to thank us at the end, saluting our support as we saluted them. This was a day to come home and tell your wives, sweethearts and your children, and your workmates, and anyone else that would listen that "I was there!!!". (Nicholas Harrison)
Liverpool could not believe it. Nor, almost, could the statisticians, who eventually proclaimed that it was the first time Liverpool have lost after being 2-0 up since 1964. Chelsea have spent 26 years ruminating about history; now the present looks hopeful indeed.
A Liverpool fan's view …….. "Was it the greatest weekend of Cup football ever? If not, I hope to dear god that I'm around to see a better one. I thought that we played fairly well, but were just overwhelmed by one of the finest performances in Cup history. Was it the finest FA Cup game of the decade? Aside from the 4-4 with the Blueslime in 1991, without a doubt."
"Will Chelsea win the Cup? Get down to the bookies right this minute". (Nicholas Harrison)
…… and he was RIGHT !!!!!!!!!
Scorers: Fowler 10, Collymore 21, M. Hughes 50, Zola 58, Vialli 63, 76
Chelsea: Hitchcock, Petrescu, Leboeuf, Clarke, Vialli, Wise, Di Matteo, Minto (M. Hughes 46), Sinclair, Newton, Zola Subs Not Used: P Hughes, Grodas Booked : Wise, Sinclair
Liverpool: James, Kvarme, McAteer, Wright, McManaman, Collymore, Fowler, Barnes, Redknapp, Bjornebye (Berger 74), Matteo, Warner, Carragher Subs Not Used:Warner, Carragher Booked: McManaman, Fowler, Collymore
Att: 27,950 Ref: S W Dunn (Bristol)