And so we are down to four, and who would have predicted the four that we have? Between them Wolverhampton Wanderers, Manchester City, Watford and Brighton and Hove Albion have appeared in the FA Cup Semi-Finals a total of 38 times. That is the lowest cumulative amount since 2008, when Portsmouth were the only Premier League side of the four teams in the Semi-Finals that year.
This season, though, all four clubs in the Semi Finals are Premier League sides but only Manchester City and Wolves have actually lifted the Trophy in the past. Watford and Brighton have just one FA Cup Final appearance each in their respective histories, both losing in successive seasons in the 1980s.
Wolves actually have the most FA Cup Semi-Final appearances of the four who have made it this far this year. This will be their 15th last four appearance but their first of this millennium. Wolves have actually won more Semi-Finals than they have lost, but you have to go all the way back to 1960 for their last victory.
By contrast, their Semi-Final opponents, Watford, are appearing in their fourth FA Cup Semi-Final this century and their seventh in total. The Hornets will be looking to win only their second last four tie having only ever beaten Plymouth Argyle at this stage in 1984.
The two clubs are drawn together for the sixth time in FA Cup history with Watford having won just one of their previous five. In fact, Wolves have triumphed 4-1 in both of their last two FA Cup meetings and Watford’s record defeat in the competition is a 10-0 reverse at the hands of Wolves in a 1911-12 1st Round replay.
The two clubs are leading the best of the rest in the Premier League and so it would appear this tie could be a hard one to call. FA Cup head-to-head history suggests a Wolves victory, but a bizarre trend in this season’s competition points to Watford making it to the Final.
Wolves’ victory over Manchester United in the Quarter Finals continued a sequence that had started way back at the beginning of the competition in the Extra Preliminary Round at the start of August. One of the 184 ties that weekend saw Biggleswade defeat Northampton ON Chenecks by two goals to nil. However, Biggleswade’s FA Cup run was short-lived as they then lost 5-3 at home to Soham Town Rangers in the Preliminary Round.
The same losing fate then happened to Soham in the 1st Qualifying Round and this sequence of the winner of the tie in one round going on to lose in the next round has continued through 12 rounds of the competition, culminating so far with Wolves’ 2-1 win over Man Utd in the Quarter Finals. The odds on that happening are over 4,000 to one, but does it suggest the trend may continue to the Final itself?
Bill Edgar from The Times newspaper got in touch to say he had determined that the last time it happened all the way through to the FA Cup Winners was in the 2012-13 competition. That sequence started with Continental Star beating Causeway United at the start of August, and culminated in Wigan Athletic’s last minute winner over Manchester City at Wembley in May.
By a strange quirk of fate Manchester City could be the beneficiaries of the sequence happening again this year, as if they win their Semi-Final they would then be on track to defeat Watford in the Final.
Man City are appearing in their 14th FA Cup Semi Final and their fourth this century, the last time just two seasons ago when defeated by Arsenal in extra time. That was only the third defeat for Man City at this stage of the competition, and they have the best win to lose ratio of all clubs to have appeared in 10 or more Semi-Finals.
Manchester City are now the joint top scorers in this season’s competition with 19 goals, putting them equal with Northern Premier League Division One East side Cleethorpes Town, who scored the same number in their qualifying round ties.
Since the FA Cup was re-formatted into its current structure in 1925, whereby the top two divisions are exempted until the 3rd Round, the most number of goals scored by the winning side in one campaign in total is 25 (this excludes Derby County in 1945-46 who scored 37 goals en route to lifting the Trophy, but for that season only each round before the Semi-Finals was played over two legs).
Only two clubs have scored as many as 25 goals in one campaign and gone on to lift the Trophy in those almost 90 seasons, Newcastle United in 1932 and Chelsea in 1970. If Manchester City emulate or better that feat this season theirs will have been achieved without the benefit of the extra games required through replays.
FA Cup history suggests that their potential to add considerably to their 19 goal tally this season is high, especially given their accumulated goals scored in all competitions so far. In their two previous FA Cup encounters with their Semi-Final opponents this year, Brighton and Hove Albion, the tie has been won each time by a four-goal margin.
A word of caution for Manchester City, though, is that the two clubs have enjoyed one win each in those two previous ties, and when Brighton won 4-0 in 1983 they went all the way to their one and only FA Cup Final to date, and to their only previous FA Cup Semi-Final appearance. And as the only one of the four Semi-Finalists this year with a 100% record at this stage of the competition, who’s to say it won’t be Brighton benefiting from that winner-losing quirk in this year’s competition?
If Brighton and Hove Albion do win their Semi-Final, and Wolverhampton Wanderers actually manage to break that ‘winner losing’ sequence, then a different kind of history will be made in the FA Cup Final. With a total of 43 letters in their two names it would become the longest combined total of any two FA Cup Finalists, the current record being the 38 letters of 1921 when Wolves appeared as well, but then they lost to Tottenham Hotspur.
As a footnote, some argue that the 1897 FA Cup final between Sheffield Wednesday and Wolverhampton Wanderers is the one with the current longest combined names at 41 letters, but at the time of that Final the South Yorkshire club were known simply as The Wednesday, making a total of just 34 letters.
Whatever happens in the Semi-Finals it will be a first time meeting in the Final whichever two teams make it there. And if it is Brighton and Hove Albion versus Watford it will be the first FA Cup Final to be contested by two clubs who have never lifted the Trophy since Chelsea versus Leeds United in 1970.