10. Leeds 4-6 Preston, 2010
Simon Grayson’s tenure at Leeds ended rather unpleasantly, but if he wanted to look for crumbs of comfort, at least he could say he saw this one coming. “I still had a go at the players at half-time,” he said after his Leeds side had thrown away a commanding advantage in their Championship clash with Preston. “Because we had given them far too many opportunities. When we were 4-1 up, we needed to be more professional, but we gave them a chance to get back into the game.” Preston took the lead through Jon Parkin, but Leeds scored four unanswered goals to take a commanding lead at the break. However, despite Grayson’s words ringing in their ears, Leeds contrived to concede five times in the second half, with Parkin grabbing another pair, and goals from Keith Treacy, Callum Davidson and Iain Hume securing the remarkable win. “I’m drained and hugely disappointed,” Grayson said. “You work hard to do things but sometimes football kicks you where it hurts. Hopefully it doesn’t come along again, because otherwise it could be a long season. It’s unbelievable and embarrassing.”
9. Motherwell 6-6 Hibernian, 2010
Even without the comeback, this Scottish Premier League clash would have been utterly extraordinary, if only because the score required brackets by the 65-minute mark. At that point Hibs, through a Colin Nish hat-trick and strikes from Derek Riordan and Anthony Stokes, led 6-2 and were idling toward an emphatic victory. However, two minutes later Giles Coke started an implausible comeback for Motherwell before Tom Hateley scored a free-kick (with a little help from Hibs keeper Graeme Smith), John Sutton nodded another, which set up Lukas Jutkiewicz to smash an incredible volley into the top corner to seal the draw in the 93rd minute.
8. Charlton 7-6 Huddersfield, 1957
Johnny Summers was a pretty good but largely unremarkable forward who played 170 or so games for Charlton after the war, never representing England, but he did have one quite remarkable game. Summers was playing at inside left for Charlton when they hosted Huddersfield in 1957, and he watched on as his side slipped to a 5-1 deficit (he got their goal), largely because their captain and centre-half Derek Upton dislocated his shoulder so, in the days before substitutes, they had to play on with 10 men. Half-an-hour remained when Summers, shifted first to centre-forward then to the left wing, set up Johnny Ryan to make it 5-2, and then everything went completely berserk. Summers scored another quickly afterwards, then notched himself a hat-trick inside eight minutes to put Charlton ahead, only for Stan Howard to draw Huddersfield level again. Summers, not to be outdone, crossed again for Ryan with seconds remaining, and Charlton won an utterly extraordinary contest.
7. Tottenham 3-4 Manchester City, 2004
Back before Manchester City were what Manchester City are now, their existence was basically a series of high comedy moments with the occasional slice of euphoria thrown in. For their FA Cup fourth-round replay against Tottenham in 2004, both of those elements were present. “Manchester City are a most unstable team,” reported The Guardian after the game, “but their split personality scared the wits out of Tottenham Hotspur in this fourth-round replay.” At half-time City were 3-0 down and Joey Barton, showing some of that intelligence and common sense he’s so proud of, had talked himself into a second booking, causing City manager Kevin Keegan to half-joke with his assistant Derek Fazackerley about where the nearest job centre was. Keegan’s half-time team talk wasn’t exactly Churchillian, as he rather resignedly told his players to go out and not embarrass themselves, but 45 minutes later they had won, scoring four goals through Sylvain Distin, Paul Bosvelt, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jon Macken. “We have let ourselves down and the supporters will be gutted,” said Spurs manager David Pleat. To say the least.
6. Tottenham 3-5 Manchester United, 2001
The old cliche goes that if you score three goals at home, you don’t expect to lose. Particularly if you score those three goals, without reply, in the first half. Tottenham were seemingly out of sight at the break in this early season game in 2001, through strikes from Les Ferdinand, Christian Ziege and Dean Richards (making his Spurs debut), but then came a second half blitz. United had made a habit of comebacks already that season, winning two and only narrowly losing 4-3 to Newcastle after being 3-1 down. They stormed back through Andy Cole, Laurent Blanc, Ruud van Nistelrooy and the recently-purchased Juan Sebastian Veron, before David Beckham applied the finishing touch. “A great game? I can’t take much comfort from that,” said Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle afterwards. “God help the rest of us if they start keeping clean sheets.”
5. Deportivo 4-0 AC Milan, 2004
Deportivo were not expected to beat the Italian giants in the second leg, let alone knock them out of the Champions League. After taking the lead through Walter Pandiani, not much else went right for Deportivo in the first leg of their 2004 Champions League quarterfinal, as Milan stormed back to take a 4-1 lead to Spain with them. Understandably, Depor were given no chance in the second game – manager Javier Irureta claiming they needed a “miracle” to progress – but they attacked from the off, with Pandiani opening the scoring after just five minutes, and goals from Juan Carlos Valeron and Albert Luque made it 3-0 at half-time. Milan regained control of the game, but couldn’t break through a solid Depor side, and with 15 minutes remaining the ball dropped to Fran, whose shot deflected off Cafu to confirm an improbable victory.
4. Newcastle 4-4 Arsenal, 2011
“It was a good game. There was a lot of intensity,” mused Arsene Wenger after his team had thrown away a 4-0 lead at Newcastle, showing that at least he could still appreciate some fine entertainment after such a shambolic showing from his men. “We were very unlucky with some decisions that went against us,” Wenger would go on to say, but this was not down to luck. After Theo Walcott had scored his second of the game to put Arsenal four ahead after just 28 minutes, they perhaps understandably had the air of a side who assumed the three points were in the bag, and were contemplating dinner arrangements for that evening. Then shortly after half-time, Joey Barton put in a rather robust tackle on Abou Diaby, which the Frenchman reacted to by grabbing his adversary by the throat, earning a red card and from there it all started to go a bit wrong. A Barton penalty started the comeback, Leon Best firstly had a strike disallowed for offside before scoring a legitimate goal, another Barton spot-kick made it 4-3 before, with three minutes remaining, Cheick Tiote battered a volley from way, way out into the bottom corner, and the comeback was complete.
3. Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich, 1999
Enough words have been written about the 1999 Champions League final. Sometimes it’s better just to watch it again. So here are the final two minutes with German commentary, here they are from a rare pitchside angle, and here’s the version with Clive Tyldesley’s commentary that you already know and love. And speaking of Tyldesley, few could ever really describe those moments as well as he can, so here’s how he described the closing few minutes: “Can Manchester United score? They always score. [David] Beckham … in towards [Peter] Schmeichel … it’s come for Dwight Yorke … cleared … [Ryan] Giggs with the shot … [Teddy] Sheringham! Name on the trophy!” Seconds later: “Beckham … in to Sheringham … and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has won it! Manchester United have reached the promised land … and the two substitutes have scored the two goals in stoppage time and the treble looms large … History is made, Manchester United are the champions of Europe again, and nobody will ever win a European Cup final more dramatically than this.”
2. Liverpool 3-3 AC Milan, 2005
“We are Liverpool FC, we have so many fans, we are not going to be slaughtered. If we can score a goal quickly we can push on from there.” Rafa Benitez’s team talk at half-time of the 2005 Champions League final wasn’t quite so much about winning the game, but avoiding humiliation in the club’s biggest game for 20 years. “I don’t think one can explain what happened,” said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti after the game, and he shouldn’t necessarily feel bad about that because nobody can really explain it. When Milan went 3-0 up just before half-time, it felt like this Liverpool team had been found out, that a relatively average set of players who had reached the final through force of will, their manager’s tactical nous and some perfectly timed moments of brilliance had finally met their match.
Indeed, they were playing a Milan side with Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Andriy Shevchenko, so it was hardly a surprise that everything seemed to be crumbling. Of course you all know what happened next, from Steven Gerrard’s header, Vladimir Smicer’s daisy-cutter that Dida should have saved, Xabi Alonso’s penalty that he did but couldn’t keep out the rebound, Jerzy Dudek’s miracle/lucky save from Shevchenko in extra-time and then penalties. Dudek had prepared meticulously for the shoot-out and had a plan for every Milan taker, but as it turned out it wasn’t much use to him. “When they took their shots they all went in the opposite direction to what we were expecting,” Dudek said. “I took Jamie Carragher’s advice and tried to repeat what Bruce Grobbelaar did in 1984.” The best-laid plans and all that – sometimes it all going awry can be a good thing.
1. Barcelona 6-1 PSG, 2017
No team had ever come back from 4-0 down in the first leg of a European tie, but Barcelona managed it. And in some style too. Inside two minutes, Luis Suarez struck and it was 2-0 at half-time as Layvin Kurzawa scored an own goal. Shortly after the break it was 3-0 as Lionel Messi converted a penalty kick, but then the tie turned on its head as Edinson Cavani struck a vital away goal.
Barcelona needed to score three more goals and it looked like PSG would add to their tally as they missed two glorious chances to finish things off. But, somehow, Barca came back in the final seven minutes. Neymar curled in a wonderful free-kick and then scored from the spot after Suarez had been fouled. Then Sergi Roberto popped up in the dying seconds to send the Camp Nou into bedlam. Never had it been seen before, and perhaps it may never be again. But those in Barcelona on that night will remember it forever.