When fans of Crystal Palace made the trip to Villa Park for their FA Cup semi-final meeting with Dalglish's Liverpool, it was more than hope than in expectation. But Mark Bright had another idea...
Pick your favourite Crystal Palace goal they said. Shouldn’t take long...
But where to start? Dean Gordon’s 35-yard thunderbolt against Derby in the 1993/94 Division One title-winning season? The frankly unlikely sight of Gareth Southgate dribbling fully 70 yards against Portsmouth in the promotion season of 1994 before thumping the ball home?
John Salako’s Pele-esque lob from the halfway line in one of the countless early-1990s meetings with Forest? Any number of Ian Wright’s seemingly endless strikes of the late-1980s and early-1990s? Or, in terms of sheer timing, Dougie Freedman’s sumptuous half volley three minutes from time that kept us up against Stockport in 2001? Never mind the handball beforehand from David Hopkin. But it can only be one, and it came on April 8, 1990.
Liverpool had already shipped 11 past us that season, nine of them in one game at Anfield the previous September. “If we can just get beat by two or three, and maybe score once so we can go mental, I’ll be happy,” was the general consensus in our carriage on the way up to Villa Park for ‘the most one-sided FA Cup Semi-Final in living memory’.
Less than 15 minutes in and the seemingly perpetual anti-climax of following the Palace was already settling in. Steve McMahon slid a through ball to the feet of Ian Rush who whipped it into the net. One-nil, the Scousers (finally) found their voice, business as usual.
It was a fairly typical Palace goal. Certainly not a thing of beauty. A hopeful punt into the box then a no-nonsense finish. It was greeted by silence. Palace’s fans gazed at the linesman, waiting for the offside flag, then at each other. Then, finally, we exploded in delight.
We awaited the inevitable collapse, but it was not forthcoming and half-time arrived with no change in the scoreline. We were still going to lose, of course, but maybe – just maybe – it might not be too embarrassing.
Fourteen seconds into the second-half embarrassment was forgotten. For Palace anyway.
A loose ball was picked up midway in his own half by Palace full-back John Pemberton, who strode forward into the yawning acres of space in front of him. If Alan Hansen had been watching from the Match of the Day studio he would have been appalled. But he wasn’t. He was playing centre-back for Liverpool. Appalled or not, he could only look on as Pembo burst between two half-hearted defenders and looped a cross over towards Bruce Grobbelaar’s far post.
Phil Barber’s header ricocheted back to John Salako about 15 yards from goal. Salako’s right-footed follow up was deflected clear, but only as far as Mark Bright who thumped the ball into the roof of the net. It was a fairly typical Palace goal. Certainly not a thing of beauty. A hopeful punt into the box, a whole heap of scruffiness and then a no-nonsense finish. It was greeted by silence. Liverpool’s blasé, success-stuffed fans (honestly younger readers … ask your dad) looked confused; Crystal Palace’s gazed at the linesman, waiting for the offside flag, then at each other. Then, finally, we exploded in delight.
There were another five goals in that game, which ended in a 4-3 victory for Crystal Palace and a visit to Wembley for the FA Cup Final. But it all began with that one head –up Sunday League charge down the flank. Cheers Pembo.
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