Mitchell is the hero

Monday 8 April 2002

John Mitchell's persistence earns Fulham their first trip to Wembley.

Fulham's victory over Birmingham City in the FA Cup semi-final in 1975 was settled by a freak goal.

It was 0-0 in extra time in the Maine Road replay, with seconds remaining when John Mitchell, of Fulham, chased a hopeful long ball. Dave Latchford, the Birmingham goalkeeper, charged it down, only for the ball to rebound to Mitchell and then into the net. Fulham play Chelsea in the semi-finals of this year's competition on Sunday.

WRITER: Tom German, April 10, 1975

Some 18 hours of determined Cup football, in which they have cleared three first division sides from their path, finally and dramatically earned Fulham, of the second division, a trip to Wembley for the first time in their history. They left their crucial stroke extremely late in the semi-final round replay at Maine Road, Manchester, last night; barely 15 seconds of the second chapter of extra time were left when the winner arrived with unexpected simplicity and suddenness.

Slough crossed the ball from the right, Mitchell reached out a toe with hardly room for manoeuvre, the ball struck Latchford in the face and bounced back for Mitchell - scorer of the first goal at Hillsborough on Saturday - to chest the ball over the line. There could be no riposte to a blow of such crushing timing; a moment later the celebrations were on.

Birmingham had made more chances, but Fulham injected a new spring into their step in extra time to seize the initiative. For the most part it was a semi-final of predictable course - not an over-generous helping of style, but a good deal of nervous caution and no lack of running and endeavour.

The Midlands men quickly indicated they had studied their notes since Saturday. They usually had someone ready to fall back to provide cover for Page and so minimise the danger from Barrett's speed along the left flank; a quicker challenge on Moore early on allowed him less time to shape Fulham's intentions. The consequence was a lean first half for the London side, though they recovered from an anxious opening to make, and almost take, a chance on the half-hour.

Gallagher's hesitance and Busby's skill were almost Birmingham's undoing. Gallagher had ample time to make up his mind how to dispose of a long, looping ball, but he lost control of it under Busby's challenge, and the man whose goals put paid to Everton and Nottingham Forest in previous rounds cut in from the left with the ball under perfect control; his shot was beyond Latchford's reach but it clipped the side of a post.

Mellor and Moore were the obstacles who barred Birmingham's way when their sharper, better fashioned attacks opened the way in that first half. Mellor got across his line miraculously to brush away a shot from Taylor, hit hard and true from no more than four or five yards. Then it was Moore's turn to reach out a leg for a timely deflection when Taylor's cross was headed on by Burns to Hatton, who was deprived in the very act of shooting. Between times, Birmingham seemed to have just cause for complaint when Mellor brought down Hendrie, but the referee ignored penalty claims.

There were no more than a couple of moments in the second half when pulses beat quicker beneath the respective bars: Mellor once again came off his line with timely speed to take the ball from Burns and Latchford had to get down to an awkwardly bouncing ball from Mitchell. So to extra time and, had we but recognised them, omens of what was to come at the eleventh hour.

The first period was in its last breath when Busby launched into a fine run along the right and his centre, measured precisely for Mitchell's head, had almost reached its target when Page nipped in to head away. The same partnership came as close again immediately the second chapter got under way. A cross, hoisted high by Mitchell, arched over perfectly for Busby, but Busby failed to squeeze his header past Latchford.