The FA Cup is renowned for its giant-killings and one of the tournament’s greatest ever upsets took place on 7th January 1989 when non-league Sutton defeated 1987 Cup Winners Coventry 2-1 at Ganders Green Lane.
And only that result could overshadow Fourth Division strugglers Grimsby travelling to top flight Middlesbrough and coming away with a 2-1 win thanks to a brace from Marc North. Whilst Sutton’s exploits are now part of FA Cup folklore, the Mariners’ goals are consigned to the archives and a short video clip on YouTube.
Here I take a look back at that famous win, one that deserves so much more credit than it receives. How tragic that both the Mariners’ heroes that day – North and Keith Alexander are regrettably no longer with us.
Middlesbrough 1 Grimsby Town 2
FA Cup Third Round | 7th January 1989 | Ayresome Park | 19,190
It is the Mariners’ cup upset that goes unnoticed in both the club’s and the competition’s history – a victim of circumstance in an extraordinary season in the FA Cup.
Ask any Grimsby fan about the club’s 1988/89 cup run and they will no doubt wax lyrical about a gallant loss to cup holders Wimbledon at Plough Lane in front of over 6,000 travelling fans, many of them carrying the famous Harry Haddock mascot.
But two rounds earlier, Alan Buckley’s Fourth Division Mariners had secured one of the club’s biggest upset wins in the tournament.
The run had already seen Wolves and Rotherham – Third and Fourth Division leaders respectively – disposed of at Blundell Park but few of the 2,000 fans from Humberside will have expected much from a trip to Teesside against a Middlesbrough side brimming with talent and matching Manchester United and Liverpool in the top flight.
But there was hope, Town’s Fourth Division counterparts Tranmere had dispatched ‘Boro from the Littlewoods Cup earlier in the season and the hosts started nervously.
The onslaught from former England man Peter Davenport and free-scoring Bernie Slaven never materialised. It took 20 minutes for the former to register the first shot on target, which was easily claimed by Paul Reece in the visiting goal.
And then came a chance for the basement club to take the lead. John McDermott lofted a ball over the top of the hosts’ high defensive line for Shaun Cunnington to run onto.
The Town midfielder sped clear and advanced on goal but was foiled by Stephen Pears in the home goal, as he reacted well to keep out the low drive.
As the game approached half-time the Ayresome Park faithful were becoming restless but their side responded by taking the lead. Stuart Ripley flicked a cross into the path of Slaven, who nodded home from close range.
But Buckley’s men did not wilt in the second period, instead coming more into the game but failing to convert their chances.
Richard O’Kelly was thwarted by Pears when well-placed and then big Keith Alexander hurried a good chance and shot over from inside the area.
With 20 minutes on the clock, Buckley played another masterstroke. Town won a throw-in in the final third and the Town boss quickly brought on Marc North for O’Kelly.
The striker’s first touch was to bring his side level. Kevin Jobling’s long throw saw Alexander tower over England international Gary Pallister and nod down for North to swivel and place his shot into the bottom corner beyond Pears’ dive.
Pallister responded by heading a ‘Boro set piece against the crossbar as the top-flight side looked for a winner but it was the men from the East Coast who would be celebrating.
With barely two minutes left on the clock a free kick was pumped into the home box. It was half-cleared to Jobling who lofted it goalwards. Pears came but Alexander beat him to the ball and, with the defence static, North stooped to conquer and head his side into Round Four.
It would have been the shock of the day had GM Vauxhall Conference side Sutton United not beaten a Coventry City side (containing current Town Commercial Manager Dave Smith) 2-1 at Golders Green Lane. It would have been the Mariners’ match of the season had it not been for Harry!
Boro: Pears; Burke, Cooper, Mowbray, Hamilton, Pallister; Brennan, Glover, Ripley; Slaven (Mohan), Davenport.
Mariners: Reece; McDermott, Agnew, Tillson, Lever; Jobling, Cunnington, Cockerill, Saunders; O’Kelly (North), Alexander.