Classic Match Report: Tottenham v Arsenal –  4 March 1987

Littlewoods Cup semi-final replay

This match means so much to so many fans of a certain age (ie our own) that we felt it had to be the classic match. Spurs were undone on their own pitch after seemingly being so sure of qualification into the final.

Though there are others that could have been recorded most obviously the 1971 or 2004 League clinching performances at White Hart Lane, but they have recently been commemorated quite brilliantly by a hardy bunch of Arsenal chaps during this summer, on a stag do that looks like it was a lot of fun!


However, back to 1987!

Tottenham 1 (C Allen 62)

Arsenal 2 (Allinson 82, Rocastle 90)

Date: Wednesday 4 March 1987

Location: White Hart Lane

Attendance: 41,055

Referee: Joe Worrall

Match Report:

Arsenal won the second leg of this semi-final having been two goals down with just 45 minutes remaining to force a replay. The Gunners’ motivation for a comeback was the half-time announcement over the PA confidently stating how Tottenham fans could apply for their cup final tickets. Having won the toss to decide the venue of the replay David Pleat unsurprisingly chose to play at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham had received some bad news earlier in the day when Glenn Hoddle was ruled out of the game due to stomach muscle problem.

The game started with neither side dominating but the play swung back and forth as both looked to gain an early advantage, and was played with raw, frenetic aggression with barely a pause. This was epitomised when a crunching tackle by Michael Thomas resulted in Clive Allen lashing out and going into the referee’s book.

Having run himself ragged in the previous games, Niall Quinn continued in the same vein as he hustled and harried Richard Gough at the heart of the Spurs’ defence. Chris Waddle came close to opening the scoring but drove into the side netting, whilst Martin Hayes wasted a glorious chance having been set up with a defence-splitting pass from David Rocastle.

The breakthrough came in the 62nd minute. Having been fouled by Thomas, Ossie Ardiles placed a free-kick deep into the Arsenal penalty area. Gough nodded the ball down for Clive Allen to put Tottenham ahead with his 39th goal of the season.

Two minutes later it looked like game over as Charlie Nicholas was forced off with an injured ankle, and was replaced by Ian Allinson.

As the game ventured into the final stages the Arsenal fans were in full voice. Arsenal continued to press and Paul Davis fed the ball to Allinson in an innocuous position. In one movement he swiveled and shot, the ball went through Gough’s legs and just beat Clemence at the near post.

The equaliser hit Tottenham hard and Arsenal played with confidence. Extra-time beckoned but there was still one last dramatic act to this game. With seconds remaining a David O’Leary free-kick bounced off the Tottenham wall, the ball fell to Allinson whose shot was blocked but David Rocastle was perfectly placed to slot home and put Arsenal ahead for the first time in the tie.

gun__1216220212_spurs1987gun__1284972550_spurs1987_6The Park Lane end erupted as Arsenal fans celebrated the most glorious of wins over their rivals.





Tottenham: R Clemence, D Thomas, Mitchell Thomas, O Ardiles, R Gough, G Mabbutt, C Allen, P Allen, C Waddle, G Stevens, N Claesen (T Galvin). Unused substitute: M Bowen.

Arsenal: J Lukic, V Anderson, K Sansom, Michael Thomas, D O’Leary, T Adams, D Rocastle, P Davis, N Quinn, C Nicholas (I Allinson), M Hayes. Unused substitute: G Caesar.

Post-match comments:

A jubilant Graham feared the worst as, after the game, he said: “I am very proud of them and I must admit that I thought whoever scored first would win It. When they scored, I thought ‘that was it,’ but the players have shown a lot of resilience and I am absolutely delighted.”

He knew that he had a special set of youngsters as he proclaimed that he wanted to emulate Liverpool’s success saying: “We’ve built a platform hopefully for further success, a lot quicker than I’d thought.”

The Arsenal manager also commended the players’ attitude and the support of the fans. “I was delighted for our players, who’ve all given me such a tremendous response this season. And I was delighted for our supporters, who gave us such fantastic backing. Even when we were behind, all the noise was coming from the Arsenal end.

Match winner David Rocastle also talked about the bond within the dressing room: “Some people might have written us off, but we always had that belief. It comes from the spirit that has built up at Highbury. We know we can build on it to achieve even greater things.”

However, he wasn’t too quick to celebrate his goal saying: “It was an unbelievable feeling when I scored, but I must admit I first checked that the linesman’s flag was down before I started to believe it.” Even more so as he was expecting another 30 minutes. “After Ian Allinson had equalised, I’d mentally prepared myself for extra-time. I never dreamed the game would finish the way it did.”

David Pleat explained that Tottenham hadn’t been able to take advantage of Arsenal seeking the equaliser: “When they threw so many forward we only needed one goal to kill the tie. It was a gamble on their part which paid off.”
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Facts linked to the match or players:

Having lost the toss to decide the replay venue, George Graham said that he would have chosen White Hart Lane if he had the choice.

This was only Michael Thomas’ sixth game for Arsenal, three of which had come in this semi-final series, and he made his debut in the first leg.

Ian Allinson’s goal was his first of the season. He would score just one more, against Watford in the FA Cup 6th round, before leaving in the summer.

Clive Allen’s goal was his 12th in the competition that season – a record that still stands today.

On the same evening, Arsenal fan Terry Marsh won the IBF light welter-weight title.

The rest of the cup run:

In the final Arsenal faced the competition’s specialists Liverpool, who had won four of the previous six finals, at Wembley. Disaster struck when Ian Rush scored as, at the time, Liverpool had never lost a game in which he’d scored. Charlie Nicholas equalised when he managed to slip the ball through a melee of defenders from a corner. He then went on to break Rush’s hoodoo as he wrong-footed Bruce Grobbelaar from a Perry Groves cross after the winger had left Gary Gillespie on his backside.

This was Arsenal’s first silverware for eight years and the first of George Graham’s incredible run of success.

Facts relating to the Season:

Earlier on in the season George Graham’s young team had equalled the club record of 17 consecutive unbeaten league games.

Background to article

This season we’ve been asked to write a regular page in the official Arsenal programme based on a classic match featuring the opponents for each game we play in. Programme editor Andy Exley has kindly given us permission to reproduce the match reports on our blog. We will also be including additional material that didn’t make the final edit of the programme. If you can’t get to The Emirates, the programme is available on iPad and iPod for a bargain 69 pence per issue.


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Copies of our books Royal Arsenal – Champions of the South and Arsenal: The Complete Record 1886-2018 are still available from the publishers.

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