In the Fourth Round of the 2003–04 FA Cup, the tie between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City went to a replay – played at White Hart Lane, London, on the evening of 4 February 2004 – after the original match 11 days earlier finished in a 1–1 draw.
Spurs took a convincing 3–0 lead into the half-time interval after goals from Ledley King, Robbie Keane and a Christian Ziegefree kick. Having already seen their star striker, Nicolas Anelka, limp off with an injury in the 27th minute of the game, the situation was made even worse for City just before the half-time interval when key central midfielder Joey Barton was dismissed by the referee for dissent as both teams and the match officials were leaving the pitch at the end of the first half. However, after the break, goals from Sylvain Distin, Paul Bosvelt, Shaun Wright-Phillips plus an injury-time strike from Jon Macken sealed a victory described by one journalistic source as “as great a comeback as English football has ever known”.
In footballing circles, it is frequently referred to as one of greatest comebacks of FA Cup history.
The match was played between two of English football’s more notable clubs, at a time when both were experiencing lengthy periods of relative mediocrity. Neither team had finished higher than seventh in the Premier League since its creation more than a decade earlier. Manchester City had won promotion back to the Premier League just two seasons earlier, having spent just one of the previous seven seasons in the Premier League, and spending one season in Division Two. Furthermore, neither team had reached the final of the FA Cup since Spurs won the competition in 1991, although Spurs had won the Football League Cupfive seasons earlier. City’s last major trophy was the League Cup in 1976.
The match was picked for live broadcast on Match of the Day but before the match the tie-up between two struggling sides was ultimately viewed to be of secondary importance compared to then-Conference side Scarborough‘s draw against Chelsea as well as another top-table clash between Liverpool and Newcastle United. It was instead broadcast live on Sky Sports.
Being top division teams, both had entered the competition in the Third Round Proper, played in the previous month. Tottenham had advanced with an easy 3–0 victory over Crystal Palace while City had laboured to beat Leicester City, having been held to a replay after a 2–2 draw at home.
Tottenham took the lead early in the match, their shot from outside the penalty area giving them a one-goal advantage after two minutes. However, their strong early position was knocked six minutes later when striker Hélder Postiga left the field with an injury, to be replaced by Gus Poyet.
In the 19th minute, Stephen Carr‘s long ball over the Manchester City defence was put past City goalkeeper Árni Arason by Robbie Keane, increasing Spurs’ advantage to two goals. Less than ten minutes later, City themselves saw a striker substituted through injury when Nicolas Anelka incurred a hamstring strain in the 27th minute. His replacement was Jon Macken, who had been blamed for missing an open goal at the end of the previous match which had necessitated the replay be played in the first place. Spurs scored their final goal just before half-time as Christian Ziege took a free-kick caused by a Joey Barton foul on Michael Brown, in the process receiving a yellow card which would become far more relevant very shortly afterwards.
Barton’s yellow card would come back to bite him on the stroke of half-time when, in a move which was indicative of the start of a career which would ultimately be characterised by controversy, he was reported to have remonstrated with referee Rob Styles as both teams made their way to the dressing rooms and promptly received a yellow card for dissent. His second yellow card resulted in his expulsion from the match and left his team with only ten men for the second 45-minute interval.
After the break, City appeared resurgent and scored within three minutes of the restart when defender Sylvain Distin headed in from a set piece. Reserve goalkeeper Arason — who was playing his first game in English football and who manager Kevin Keegan had never even witnessed in full match conditions before — then drew plaudits for a double save following another Ziege free kick. City reduced the lead to just one goal when Paul Bosvelt‘s half-volley took a deflection off Anthony Gardner in the 62nd minute.
Manchester City eventually drew level in the 79th minute when Shaun Wright-Phillips avoided an offside trap to lob Spurs goalkeeper Kasey Keller, and finally took the lead in the 90th minute as another cross from Michael Tarnat found Jon Macken, who prevented the need for extra time or penalties.