The Giant Killers

Every F A cup slaying since 1888

All time greatest F A Cup Giant Killings

Number 1

Sutton United



2-1



Coventry City

Third Round [last 64]


Saturday, January 7th 1989


Attendance: 8,000


Gander Green Lane, Sutton


Scorers:


Tony Rains {42}


David Phillips {52}


Matthew Hanlan {59}

  • Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan topped the charts with especially for you
  • Dustin Hoffman put in an Oscar winning performance opposite Tom Cruise in Rain Man
  • The longest reigning monarch of Japan, Emperor Hirohito, died, to be succeeded by his son Akihto.
  • World leaders gathered in Lockerbie for a memorial service to remember the 270 people killed in the terrorist bombing of a Pan Am flight just before Christmas.
  • Des Lynam seemed to be everywhere on the TV as he took over the reigns of the Holiday Programme and offered a two-week Royal Caribbean to one lucky viewer.

     

    Sutton United were in their third season among the semi professionals of the National Conference but, after two reasonably decent top half finishes, they were finding life tougher this time around with demotion back down to the lower Non-Leagues not beyond question. Home form was key in staving this off and under their Kipling quoting, pipe smoking, former English teacher, manager, Barrie Williams, it was the U’s home form that was ensuring they would probably enjoy another modest mid table finish to their campaign.


Williams had been in charge for the better part of a decade, guiding the club to back to back Isthmian League titles, which granted the club the opportunity to step up to the semi pro big time. A lack of adequate facilities at their Gander Green Lane ground saw them turn the offer down first time round before fans helped get the ground up to scratch the following season. The FA cup too brought good times to the club with a good run the previous season, ended, rather unluckily, at Second Division Middlesbrough.


In the early stages of Sutton’s 1988/89 cup run they could be forgiven for thinking the gods of the draw wanted to see them fall victim of an upset rather than ultimately deliver one. Isthmian League Walton & Hersham proved awkward opponents in the Fourth Qualifying Round, forcing a replay back at their place, which Sutton dealt with comfortably. Further away trips to Isthmian League opponents, Dagenham and relegation threatened Conference side, Aylesbury United followed in Rounds One and Two with the former easily beaten 4-0 and the latter proving a tougher nut to crack before being seen off 1-0.

For all the players; Football was a low paid hobby, enjoyed outside their day jobs, many of which reflected the club’s location in the Stockbroker belt. Club captain, Tony Rains and Welshman, Robyn Jones were insurance clerks at Legal and General, Micky Stephens and Nigel Golly were Assistant Bank Managers, Paul Rogers a Commodity Broker, Phil Dawson a Building Contractor, Matthew Hanlan and keeper Trevor Roffey were Master Bricklayers. Even Admin Manager, Paul McKinnon and Audio-Visual Technician, Lennie Dennis held down day jobs. This was despite McKinnon having once played in the Cup Winners Cup for Swedish side Malmo while Dennis turned out for Jamaica in a World Cup Qualifier. Dr Spock, as Dennis was known to his team mates, was the main goal threat with twenty-three this season, including scoring in every round of the cup.

The Third Round gave them their dream draw, a top-drawer top-flight team at home. High flying Coventry City were coming to Gander Green Lane. That instantly brought back memories of Sutton’s last battle with top flight opposition, nineteen years earlier, when they hosted the then mighty Leeds. A packed crowd watched a top-flight master class as Leeds took no prisoners, winning 6-0. Sutton’s keeper that day was Dave Roffey, the dad of Trevor, no doubt hoping his son’s fate would be better.

Coventry City wasn’t quite in Leeds’ class and were traditionally a name associated with perennial relegation battling but John Sillet’s squad bucked that trend. His Sky Blues landed the club’s first ever major honour just two years earlier, winning a classic Cup Final against a slick Tottenham side. With careful dealing in the transfer market Sillet managed to keep a settled team together and by 1988/89 season something good seemed to be emerging at Highfield Road. In seventeen top flight seasons, Coventry had never finished better than sixth in the big time, yet they emerged from the hectic Christmas fixture schedule in fifth place, smashing Sheffield Wednesday 5-0 in preparation for their cup tie.

In the days leading up to the tie the Sutton camp expressed cautious optimism. Tony Rains telling the press that they wouldn’t even play the game at Gander Green Lane, cashing in on a fixture switch to Highfield Road, unless they felt they had a chance, however slim that may be. Barrie Williams was confident the Coventry stars would be apprehensive of coming there too and that, while man for man, the gulf in class was clear, the cup was a fantasy and that, with a rub of the green, fantasy might deliver a fantastic result.

On match day Sillet named seven of his cup winning side in his starting eleven, including England’s Cyril Regis and Wales’ David Phillips, with an eighth, Keith Houchen, on the bench to accommodate City’s new main goal threat, Scotland’s David Speedie. Meanwhile Barrie Williams’ first task of the day was the always difficult one of having to tell a first team regular, Stuart Hemsley that he’d failed a fitness test and would have to sit it out. Computer developer, Vernon Pratt was the lucky reserve.

Next came a less than inspiring set piece session on the common next to the ground. A key to any potential success was viewed to be the accuracy of Micky Steven’s corners and the team had regularly practiced a series of routines to use on Coventry. But on matchday morning those routines weren’t coming off and it all looked a bit keystone cops. However, Stevens was unflustered and felt the poor session lay more in the condition of the common than any pre-match nerves. The routines were well practised, and he remained sure his near post corners could cause mayhem if given the chance.


As 2pm approached, Gander Green Lane was packed to its 8,000 capacity, buying the matchday programme in which Barrie Williams quoted the Kipling verse, ‘If’ in his manager notes. No matter what the result, Chairman, Dave Hermitage was smiling as a whopping £25,000 in revenue would be generated from the game. For some, clutching at hope more than expectation was the stat that Coventry hadn’t won on the road in eight games in all competitions while Sutton were seven games without defeat in front of their own fans.

Unsurprisingly the there was a huge TV build up to the tie as well as it being picked as one of three games for the Saturday evening Match of the Day highlight show. The commentator was the king of giant killing commentary, John Motson.

Barrie Williams’ big concern after the game was to avoid getting his newly cleaned blazer wet or covered in champagne in the post-match celebrations, before being asked to make the journey back to London with the BBC team for a spot on the evening highlight show with Des Lynam and Jimmy Hill. His players too were all much in demand for their favourite moment of the backs to the wall effort and there were so many to choose from other than Rains’ and Hanlan’s goals. Roffey’s great close range save from Regis, Jones’ headed goal line clearance as Kilcline’s header was rising into the net, Pratt’s last ditch challenge to force the ball onto post and bar when Sedgley was poised to certainly equalise, Stephen’s accuracy from corners that led to both goals, Golley’s near post flicks from those corners that set up the first goal, Dawson, who couldn’t believe how much time he was given to deliver the sweetest cross for the second goal. In an attacking sense too, Dennis forced a good stop from Ogrizovic, McKinnon’s fine lob was just too high to drop into the net and Rogers laid on a great early chance that went narrowly wide of opening the scoring. It was a master class in how a giant killing requires all eleven men on the field to play out of their skin. As goal scorers, it was Hanlan and Rains given the strange honour of guesting on the Wogan show. There was one other iconic hero of the afternoon that stood out to the public. Matthew Hanlan’s sister caught in floods of tears at the final whistle

Coventry City’s players, officials and fans all showed the proper courtesy in defeat that any giant should, much to the praise of Barrie Williams. But their part in the Sutton story wasn’t quite finished yet. On Monday morning the U’s were drawn away to unlikely title contenders, Norwich City, lying second in the top flight in what was also arguably their greatest ever league campaign. Coventry’s next fixture would be an away game at Carrow Road, which they duly won 2-1 to not only put a dent in the Canaries’ title ambitions but also added that seed of doubt to their cup ambitions too. Unfortunately, the men from Highfield Road ultimately failed to beat their best top-flight finish, ending in seventh place.


Alas for Sutton, in front of a full house, Norwich were in no mood to suffer the same cup fate as Coventry and laid siege to Trevor Roffey’s goal from the first minute. Sutton had already survived a few scares before finally conceding the first of eight goals in the fourteenth minute although they still got their fair share of a standing ovation from the Carrow Road faithful at the end.

With Sutton’s day in the limelight over, the players went back to their day jobs and the weekend business of keeping the club in the National Conference, a feat they achieved without any real relegation danger, finishing fifteenth. A promising eighth place finish followed but then the wheels fell off and Sutton were relegated in 1991. Barrie Williams moved on take charge of the Women’s England team and the cup squad gradually broke up.


Although many of the Sutton players had offers to go full time, only Paul Rogers took the plunge with both feet, signing for First Division Sheffield United in 1992. Rogers was a regular in the Blades’ side and a little unlucky to miss out on a place in the 1993 cup semi final at Wembley.


In the years since Sutton’s exploits, the fifth tier has gone full time, making the likelihood of a semi professional side beating top flight opposition in the cup a very remote prospect, at least in the immediate future. That keeps the part timers of the Us in constant demand every January to relive the exploits of 1989. Arguably the biggest Giant Killing in history. However, records always stand to be broken and as long as teams a hundred places below the Premier League are given the chance, there’s always the possibility of a bigger giant killing. If they can keep their heads when all about are losing theirs.

Sutton United: 1:Trevor Roffey, 2:Robyn Jones, 3:Tony Rains, 4:Nigel Golley, 5:Vernon Pratt, 6:Paul Rogers, 7:Micky Stephens, 8:Phil Dawson, 9:Lennie Dennis, 10:Paul McKinnon, 11:Matthew Hanlan. Manager:Barrie Williams


Coventry City: 1:Steve Ogrizovic, 2:Brian Burrows, 3:David Phillips, 4:Steve Sedgley, 5:Brian Kilcline, 6:Trevor Peake, 7:Dave Bennett, 8:David Speedie, 9:Cyril Regis {Replaced by 12:Keith Houchen-72}, 10:Lloyd McGrath, 11:David Smith. Manager:John Sillet

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