5 of the Biggest FA Cup Bad Beats in the Modern Era

The FA Cup is the oldest and most cherished cup competition in English football. Established in 1871, it has been in existence for over 150 years. In fact, it happens to be the oldest national football competition on the planet, hence its appeal among football fanatics.

There is a huge sense of allure towards the FA Cup. One of the main reasons it’s such a romantic competition is the chance for the smaller clubs lower down the football pyramid to rub shoulders with the greats of English soccer. The biggest teams don’t enter the competition until the third round, but it’s possible for semi-professional and even amateur teams to work their way through the lower qualifying rounds to land a plum tie against the best paid soccer players on the planet.

Although you might think the biggest teams should wipe the floor with the lesser-known teams, cup shocks can happen on any given day. In fact, there’s been many more bad beats in the FA Cup than you might think. A bad beat is a popular phrase coined in the world of poker, where players deemed to have a high statistical probability of winning a hand fall foul to an opponent’s hand. Sometimes the opponent may get the only card in the deck that can improve their hand, which is known in the trade as a one-outer.

The truth is that most serious poker players will suffer from bad beats in their career and it’s no different for England’s leading soccer teams who also suffer from the fickle finger of variance. Below, we’ll reveal five of the biggest FA Cup bad beats experienced in the modern era of the sport.


Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City, 1989

Sutton United enjoyed a remarkable run in the 1988/89 FA Cup. The non-league side from South London reached the third round and were drawn against top-flight outfit, Coventry City, who had won the entire competition in 1986/87.

In what should have been a routine victory for the Sky Blues, Sutton stunned their illustrious visitors with Tony Rains striking first for the hosts. David Phillips equalised for Coventry, with many expecting them to pick up and get out of first gear. However, Matthew Hanlon etched his name into Sutton and FA Cup folklore by nodding in a dramatic winner.

Sutton’s cup run was unceremoniously ended in round four, with Norwich City dumping them out 8-0.

Wrexham 2-1 Arsenal, 1992

England’s reigning champions were sent to north Wales to face Wrexham in the 1991/92 FA Cup third round. With Wrexham sitting near the bottom of England’s fourth division at the time, the probabilities were heavily stacked in the Gunners’ favor.

Wrexham had other ideas, though. Even after Alan Smith plundered Arsenal in front, Mickey Thomas curled in a fine free kick to level the contest. Striker, Steve Watkin, then poached a late winner to send the Racecourse Ground wild with delight.

Leicester City 1-2 Wycombe Wanderers, 2001

This game was another example of a top-flight team locking horns with a lower division outfit. Wycombe Wanderers boss Lawrie Sanchez had masterminded the Chairboys into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. They were 90 minutes away from a semi-final berth.

An injury crisis struck Wycombe in the run-up to this game. Sanchez enlisted the services of unattached striker, Roy Essandoh, who signed a two-week contract. It was Essandoh who headed home an iconic winner in injury time, becoming a cult hero overnight.

Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle United, 2011

Stevenage and Newcastle locked horns twice in the FA Cup in 1998 and 2011. Newcastle were taken to a replay in their first third round meeting in 1998 before winning the replay on home soil. Stevenage didn’t take any prisoners in their second meeting 13 years later either. This time, Boro came out on top, winning 3-1 to dump out the Magpies in unceremonious fashion.

Norwich City 0-1 Luton Town, 2013

In January 2013, Luton Town became the first non-league team to win against a top-flight team since Sutton’s exploits in 1989. Luton’s Scott Rendell fired home the only goal of the contest just ten minutes from time to send the travelling fans from Bedfordshire wild with delight.

Who would’ve thought ten years later Luton would have traded places with Norwich? The Hatters are now in the Premier League, while Norwich languish in the middle of the second tier.