FA Cup fever gripped the city of Hull ahead of Liverpool’s Fifth Round visit to Boothferry Park in February 1989 – and then Tigers boss Eddie Gray was no different as he proudly shows off the ‘City Cup Special’ for the tie produced by the Hull Daily Mail.
At the time, Kenny Dalglish’s Reds were by far the best team in the country. A capacity crowd of over 20,000, as well as the TV cameras, were present; the magic of the FA Cup was weaving its spell yet again. After victories in two tricky away ties at Cardiff City and Bradford City, Hull City’s efforts in the famous cup competition were rewarded with the most attractive fifth-round tie possible.
Despite a bright start to the tie from Gray’s men, the class and composure of the Merseyside outfit was soon in evidence and the early loss of centre-back Gary Gillespie through injury did nothing to diminish Liverpool’s control on the game. That control was rewarded after 14 minutes when a superb cross from Peter Beardsley gave John Barnes the simplest of headers to open the scoring.
At this stage, Liverpool seemed to be cruising. Their crisp passing and tactical play suggested they were giving the Tigers a masterclass in how top-flight football should be played. The hosts players continued to battle, though, never giving up on what seemed like a lost cause. And That determination paid off 11 minutes before the break when Gary Ablett missed a Garreth Roberts cross allowing the ball to run through to Billy Whitehurst. ‘Big Billy’ may not have possessed the subtlety and sophistication of his opponents, but he knew where the back of the net was and he slotted the ball past Bruce Grobbelaar at the back post to level the scores.
To Liverpool, it appeared as a minor irritation rather than a major upset. It gave the Tigers heart though, and they grabbed the nation’s headlines in the dying seconds of the first half when Keith Edwards’ goal ensured the half-time score at Boothferry Park read: Hull City 2 Liverpool 1. Was a big cup shock on the cards?
Boothferry Park was understandably rocking as the players returned to the dressing room for the half time break, but the interval also gave the visitors the chance to regroup and recover from the shock of going behind. It also allowed the Tigers to ponder on the enormity of what they had achieved in the first 45 minutes and what they could potentially achieve in the second. However, the prospect seemed to overcome them.
The visitors rose to the challenge after the break and were back on level terms within seven minutes of the restart through John Aldridge’s header. And two minutes later, the same player put the Reds in front with a classic goal-poacher’s effort. Normal service had been resumed.
The remainder of the tie was played out with only the occasional minor skirmish in the Liverpool box as Whitehurst and Edwards, along with their team-mates, tried gallantly to repeat their efforts of the first half but, unfortunately, it wasn’t to be as Liverpool held on to secure a 3-2 win and book their place in the last eight of the competition.
There was no major cup shock at Boothferry Park that day, but the game will always be remembered by those Tigers’ fans who were in attendance over 31 years ago – and both Whitehurst and Edwards will never forget the goals they scored against the mighty Reds.