First XI

Most dramatic comebacks

January 27, 2011
By Robin Hackett
(Archive)

Having trailed 2-0, Manchester United scored three late goals at Blackpool on Tuesday to secure a remarkable victory. We select a some of the most dramatic turnarounds in football history.

Yugoslavia 5-5 Soviet Union (Olympic Games first round, 1952)

Arthur Ellis
PA PhotosReferee Arthur Ellis said it was "the most honourable draw ever recorded"

Yugoslavia had been 5-1 ahead going into the final 15 minutes of this Olympic tie in Finland before conceding in the 75th, 77th, 87th and 89th minutes, with Vsevolod Bobrov - who was also a preeminent hockey and bandy player - scoring a hat-trick.

"Russia forced the most honourable draw ever recorded!" referee Arthur Ellis later wrote. "Bobrov, their captain, scored a magnificent hat-trick. He, almost single-handed, took the score to 5-5. For once, use of the word sensational was justified."

A replay followed, which Yugoslavia won 3-1.

Blackpool 4-3 Bolton (FA Cup final, 1953)

The FA Cup final of 1953 may not have provided the most implausible comeback, but the 'Matthews Final' was among the most stirring.

The great Stanley Matthews, who at 38 was assumed to have been in the winter of his career, had twice been a losing finalist in a competition considered the pinnacle of club football at the time; as his Blackpool side prepared to face Bolton, much of the pre-match focus had been on whether he would end his long wait for success.

For much of the game at Wembley, it appeared Matthews was destined to remain empty-handed. The late, great Nat Lofthouse had given Bolton a lead in the second minute and, while Stan Mortensen levelled at 1-1, goals from Bobby Langton and Eric Bell had made it 3-1 in the 55th minute.

The Guardian reporter wrote of a fellow scribe who "set down his pencil with a bang as who should say, 'That's the end of Blackpool, folks, and that's the end of the quest for the medal'. Blackpool's plight at this moment was indeed pitiful".

Blackpool, though, produced an inspirational performance as the game entered the final 20 minutes, with Matthews at the heart of it. Mortensen made it 3-2 with 68 minutes on the clock and, while many supporters left the ground thinking the match over, he completed his hat-trick in the 89th minute with a free-kick.

In injury time, Matthews beat two defenders before pulling the ball back for Bill Perry to make it 4-3. Blackpool manager Joe Smith ran across the field to Matthews and shouted: "Stan, Stan, you've beaten them yourself!"

Bolton captain Willie Moir led the applause for Matthews at the end of the game while Lofthouse said: "I didn't want Matthews to get a winner's medal but, if we couldn't, we were all delighted that such an astonishing player as Stan was the one to beat us."

Charlton 7-6 Huddersfield (English Second Division, 1957)

Charlton had been trailing 5-1 with 27 minutes to go at home to Huddersfield and were down to ten men after centre-back Derek Ufton, their captain, was withdrawn with a dislocated shoulder.

However, Charlton's outside left, Johnny Summers turned the match on its head. Having changed his boots at half-time, this natural left-footer scored five goals with his right and turned a four-goal deficit into a one-goal lead.

Huddersfield rallied and levelled at 6-6 with five minutes remaining, but Summers then provided an assist for John Ryan to score in the last minute for a 7-6 victory.

England 2-3 West Germany (World Cup quarter-final, 1970)

England's Francis Lee leaves the field dejected as West Germany's Uwe Seeler hugs Klaus Fichtel
APEngland's Francis Lee leaves the field dejected as West Germany's Uwe Seeler hugs Klaus Fichtel

England, the reigning world champions, had gone into the World Cup in Mexico confident of success, and they had been 2-0 up after 49 minutes of their quarter-final against West Germany, the defeated finalists of 1966.

However, England faded in the heat as the match wore on and Franz Beckenbauer pulled a goal back on 68 minutes. The great Bobby Charlton, then 32, was substituted two minutes later as he failed to keep pace. Uwe Seeler made it 2-2 on 76 minutes to force the game into extra time and the comeback was complete in the 108th minute courtesy of the legendary goal-scorer Gerd Muller.

Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti - named in the side as Gordon Banks was feeling "off-colour" - was blamed for two of the goals, but the general feeling was that the blame was more widespread.

"I've never seen England give away such easy goals," Sir Alf Ramsey said. "They were bad goals. No team - at least not one as strong as England's - should lose a two-goal lead.

"The whole thing was unreal, a freak of nature. This England team played tremendously. For an hour, they were brilliant. The Germans were never in the match."

Suggestions that the lack of stamina was down to the players' taste for the local nightlife were, however, dismissed. "The players had their nights off, but no one overstepped the mark," Ramsey said.

Bochum 5-6 Bayern Munich (Bundesliga, 1976)

Around 18,000 fans packed into the Ruhrstadion, which was still under construction, to see Bochum run up a 4-0 lead after 53 minutes of their league clash with European champions Bayern.

Bayern, though, scored five goals in 20 minutes to take a 5-4 lead with 75 minutes gone. Bochum striker Jupp Kaczor then added his second of the game to make it 5-5 with 80 minutes gone, and he tried to complete his hat-trick in the final minute with a spectacular bicycle kick. Unfortunately, he not only missed the chance but also took it away from team-mate Holger Trimhold.

Bayern won possession, broke clear and Uli Hoeness grabbed the winner to seal an improbable victory and stun the home fans into silence.

Bochum club legend Michael 'Ata' Lameck said: "When the final whistle came, we didn't even realise we had lost the game."

Bochum defender Hermann Gerland, now assistant coach at Bayern, believes the size of their lead had given the team a false sense of security: "Suddenly everybody ran upfield and tried to score, even the defenders, and so Erich Miss, who was a solid man-marker but not the fastest guy in the world, was forced into one-on-ones against Uli Hoeness at the back, who was swift as an arrow.

"So Bayern scored two within two minutes, even five within 22. That was paralysing. Suddenly our legs became more and more heavy, the Bayern legs lighter and lighter."

QPR 5-5 Newcastle (English First Division, 1984)

Newcastle had run up a 4-0 lead at half-time, thanks in no small part to a Chris Waddle hat-trick. QPR, though, were made of sterner stuff in the second half and pulled the score back to 4-3.

Although Kenny Wharton looked to have put the game beyond QPR's reach when he made it 5-3, Steve Wicks made it 5-4 with four minutes remaining before Gary Mickelwhite made it 5-5 in injury time.

"A miracle took place out there," QPR manager Alan Mullery said, while disgruntled Newcastle manager Jack Charlton had a more prosaic explanation: "They gave us too much moor in the first half and we did the same with them in the second."

Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich (Champions League final, 1999)

Manchester United celebrate with the Champions League trophy as Bayern Munich look on
GettyImagesManchester United celebrate with the Champions League trophy as Bayern Munich look on

United, making their first appearance at the European Cup final since their 1968 success, had to take on three-time winners Bayern in Barcelona without both Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. After only six minutes, they fell behind to a Mario Basler free-kick.

Bayern had looked good value for the lead, with 38-year-old sweeper Lothar Matthaus in commanding form, but he was substituted in the 80th minute having been on the wrong end of a David Beckham tackle a few minutes earlier. He revealed afterwards he "was finished but could have played on", while former Bayern star Paul Breitner said: "By leaving, Lothar did Manchester United the greatest favour."

United turned it around in injury time, substitutes Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer scoring in the 91st and 93rd minutes to secure a 2-1 win.

"It wasn't skill and ability which won us the game, because too much of what we tried didn't go right," Gary Neville said. "It was something else, and I can't explain what it was."

Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn felt he could: "Luck, luck and luck again."

Matthaus added that it was "not the best team that won but the luckiest", and even Roy Keane said: "The Champagne was flowing, people were going crazy, but my belief was we had been lucky against a Bayern Munich team that bottled it."

Yugoslavia 3-4 Spain (Euro 2000 group stage)

Having lost to Norway in their opener before sneaking past Slovenia 2-1, Spain were in very real danger of an early exit from Euro 2000 when they took on Yugoslavia in their final group game.

Their worst fears looked to have become a reality as they trailed 3-2 going into the final moments of the game and, though Gaizka Mendieta levelled from the penalty spot in the 90th minute, a point was insufficient. With Yugoslavia down to ten men, though, they were unable to prevent Alfonso scoring his second of the game to send Spain through at Norway's expense.

After the match, Spain boss Jose Antonio Camacho applied a wet blanket to the scenes of joy. "People may expect me to be euphoric after that but that's not the way I am," he said.

Liverpool 3-3 (3-2 pen) AC Milan (Champions League final, 2005)

Two of European football's most decorated clubs, Milan had nonetheless been firm favourites ahead of the final in Istanbul. They had a vintage side with great players throughout the squad; Liverpool started the game with Djimi Traore at left-back.

"No disrespect to the squad we have got now," Jamie Carragher said ahead of the game, "but it is obvious we are not as strong as we were when we won the UEFA Cup in 2001."

Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti had stressed his side's experience would "count for a lot" in the build-up, and it took only 53 seconds for the most experienced of them all, Paolo Maldini, to open the scoring. A Hernan Crespo double shortly before the break left Liverpool trailing 3-0.

"To be honest, I was thinking more that I didn't want the club and ourselves as a group of players to get embarrassed by losing 4-0 or 5-0," Carragher later recalled.

Rafa Benitez brought on Dietmar Hamann for Steve Finnan to neutralise Kaka and, in the space of six second-half minutes, Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso had levelled the scores. Jerzy Dudek was twice required to make saves from Andrei Shevchenko, but Liverpool withstood the pressure and came out with a 3-2 victory on penalties.

The match became known as the 'Miracle of Istanbul' and even Britain's political leaders felt moved to comment, with Conservative leader Michael Howard providing an account of his evening: "Three-nil down at half-time I thought, 'Oh dear - all the dreams are going to dissolve', but what a second half."

Angola 4-4 Mali (African Nations Cup, 2010)

Francisco Zuela
GettyImagesAngola's Francisco Zuela reacts with dismay after his side threw away a four-goal lead

Hosts Angola had been 4-0 ahead with 11 minutes remaining of the opening game of last year's African Nations Cup, but Seydou Keita scored what appeared a consolation goal before Frederic Kanoute headed home for 4-2 in the 87th minute.

Keita made it 4-3 in the third minute of injury time and Mustapha Yatabare found the equaliser two minutes later.

Angola coach Manuel Jose said: "This draw tasted like a defeat to me. This is one of the most bitter pills I've ever had to swallow in all the matches of my long career."

Motherwell 6-6 Hibernian (Scottish Premier League, 2010)

A Colin Nish hat-trick had helped Hibs to a 4-2 lead at half-time, and Motherwell boss Craig Brown had told his players in the dressing room that a response was required: "I said, 'If any of you sitting in this dressing room believes that we can't come back, get the jersey off and we'll get one of the subs on'."

On 65 minutes, though, it was 6-2 courtesy of an Anthony Stokes brace. Over the course of the next 11 minutes, the Well players reduced the arrears to 6-5 before Hibs 'keeper Graeme Smith brought down Lucas Jutkiewicz for an 87th-minute penalty. Ross Forbes stepped up, but Smith made the save.

Jutkiewicz, though, levelled two minutes into injury time with a stunning volley Brown that likened to Marco van Basten's famous strike for Netherlands.