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Five of the best: FA Cup third round ties

There are few dates more eagerly-awaited in the football calendar than the FA Cup third round day.

Of course, the games tend to spread over a weekend these days due to TV coverage but City will take on Norwich at the traditional time of 3pm, Saturday afternoon.

Much is talked about the ‘romance’ of the FA Cup, but the Blues have rarely pitted against minnows at the third round stage with our last pairing against non-League opponents coming some 35 years ago - which is where we begin our memorable ties list…

City 1 Wigan Athletic 0 (FA Cup 3rd round 1970/71)

When the Blues - with four major trophies in the previous three seasons – pulled Wigan Athletic out of the hat at the third round stage, City fans could have been forgiven for bringing their abacus with them in anticipation of a cricket score victory.

The Blues were in fifth position in the top flight, some way behind leaders Leeds United but certainly in contention for a place in the top three while Wigan were challenging for the Northern Premier League title – a forerunner for the Conference division beneath the fourth tier of English football.

For curiosity value alone, the City fans flocked to Maine Road in their numbers and the 46,212 crowd would be the biggest home gate of the season.

The rout never happened and City just scraped through with Colin Bell scoring the only goal ten minutes from time in a game  that was anything but a smooth passage to the next round.

City 4 Crystal Palace 0 (FA Cup 3rd round 1980/81)

It was meant to be the return of the Prodigal Son as the cup threw up one of the games that makes the competition so special.

Malcolm Allison had been fired as coach in mid-October along with Tony Book after City had failed to win any of the opening 12 Division One fixtures.

John Bond took the reins and immediately began to transform a side that already seemed destined for relegation into an entertaining, vibrant outfit that quickly began climbing the table.

Already League Cup semi-finalists, City pulled Palace out of the hat with Allison now the Eagles’ head coach.

Almost 40,000 packed into Maine Road for an intriguing game and Allison, never one to shy away from attention, walked out into the centre of the pitch before kick-off to applaud the Kippax.

That was as welcoming as it got for the former Blues boss as Bond’s side thumped Palace 4-0 with second-half goals from Kevin Reeves (2). Phil Bowyer and Paul Power and City would go all the way to the final that season, ultimately falling at the final hurdle against Tottenham.

Huddersfield Town 2 City 2 (FA Cup 3rd round 1987/88)

Yet another quirk of the cup, this all-Division Two clash at Leeds Road shouldn’t have been much interest to the general populace, but as City had beaten Huddersfield 10-1 precisely two months earlier, neutrals were intrigued to find out if the Terriers could avenge the annihilation.

An estimated 10,000 Blues made the short trip over the Pennines, hoping that the seemingly inevitable defeat wouldn’t materialise. It was, at that time, very much the era of ‘typical City’, after all.

So when Ian Brightwell’s early goal sent the travelling army wild with delight, all seemed well and the Blues looked on their way to the last 32.

Of course, it was never going to be as straightforward as that and Huddersfield came out for the second-half revved up and determined not to suffer further misery at the hands of City. Two goals inside five minutes gave the hosts a lead they held until deep into injury time.

In fact, some eight extra minutes had been played when the Blues were awarded a free-kick 30 yards from goal. John Gidman’s shot, the last action of the game, somehow found its way to the back of the net and the travelling hordes went wild.

The whistle blew and the celebrations continued long after the final whistle. Though the subsequent replay at Maine Road ended 0-0, the second replay saw City win 3-0 at Leeds Road after the teams met for a third time in 13 days.

Leeds United 1 City 2 (FA Cup 3rd round 1977/7)

Drama, late goals, fights among team-mates and a pitch invasion – this was a classic seventies FA Cup tie in every sense of the word.

With a gate approaching 40,000 at Elland Road and just four points separating the teams in the top flight, the Blues were up against a side that had already won 3-2 at Maine Road with the likes of Gordon McQueen, Eddie Gray, Frank Gray, Allan Clarke, Tony Currie and Joe Jordan in their side.

The Blues, however, were in the mood for some payback and took the game to Leeds in the opening period with Peter Barnes denied a blatant penalty.

As City pressed from a succession of corners, McQueen punched keeper David Harvey on the jaw as the hosts imploded, but it wasn’t until after the break that Dennis Tueart finally broke the deadlock with a header.

Peter Barnes then sent the 8,000 or so travelling City fans into raptures as he poked home a loose ball from two yards before things got out of hand behind the goal the Blues were defending.

As Leeds fans spilled on to the pitch and the game was suspended, the referee made it clear he wasn’t going to abandon the game and order was eventually restored. Frank Gray pulled a goal back from the spot in the last minute but the Blues held firm.

City 1 Luton Town 0 (FA Cup 3rd round 1969/70)

Third Division Luton Town weren’t expected to cause too many problems for the reigning league champions at Maine Road.

Though Joe Mercer’s side were already way behind leaders Liverpool and languishing in mid-table, 37,120 fans turned out to see if the FA Cup might provide a route to silverware that season.

As it was, a Francis Lee goal was all the misfiring Blues could muster on the way to a narrow 1-0 win – but it was the start of a run that eventually ended with glory at Wembley against Leicester City four months later…

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