Our FA Cup 'Road to Wembley' correspondent Matt Bass took in Sunday's semi-final

Matt Bass has now taken in 13 Emirates FA Cup ties across each round of the 2023-24 competition. Sunday saw him reach Wembley Stadium for the semi-final...

Tuesday 23 Apr 2024
Coventry City fans packed into Wembley Stadium ahead of their semi-final with Manchester United on Sunday

Matt's 'Road to Wembley' reached the national stadium for the semi-final

I’ve been treated to many unforgettable moments during my Emirates FA Cup odyssey.

When I began, it was a complete blank canvas. In truth, my only real aims were to get myself to the games, meet some new people and enjoy the occasions.

Sharing a pre-match meal with the squad at Lordswood, taking over the Tannoy at Flackwell Heath and Gorleston, gatecrashing the changing rooms at Ramsgate and witnessing a true David v Goliath success with Maidstone have all been unexpected and yet highly memorable.

Coventry City 3-3 Manchester United
  • AET, Man Utd win 4-3 on penalties
  • The Emirates FA Cup semi-final
  • Sunday 21 April 2024
  • Wembley Stadium connected by EE

I think I can now add an all-time classic semi-final to the list!

Having watched Coventry two rounds previously when they entertained Maidstone, I was fully aware of the strengths of the Championship side. Exciting to watch with plenty of attacking intent, Mark Robins has his side flying.

However, we all know that there is still a giant step up to the levels of a top-half Premier League side. Manchester United might not be in the title race but they are still a force to be reckoned with.

And with no disrespect intended to George Elokobi’s Maidstone, there is certainly a vast difference between the top flight and the sixth tier. This would be an entirely different prospect for the Sky Blues compared to when I last saw them.

Jumping on the train nice and early, I avoided the crowds of the London Marathon and took refuge in a bar in Marylebone. I’d wanted to soak up a little of the pre-match atmosphere and yet I somehow seemed to stumble upon the only pub in the area where a seat could easily be found.

However, following a largely sleepless night before due to an unsettled second-born, I decided relative peace and quiet might not be the worst thing in the world while I waited for my friend Chris to join me.

Perhaps Matt might head into the dugout next after this season's journey

An old work colleague of mine, Chris and I have known each other for many years and immediately bonded when we met over a shared love and understanding of the pains of supporting a lower-league football club.

The last time we were both at Wembley, his Southend United overcame my Wycombe Wanderers on penalties in the League Two play-off final. The agony was real on my part. How would I cope with the loss of office bragging rights the next day?

When the idea of embarking on this FA Cup journey was first forming in my head, Chris was initially going to join me on the adventure. Circumstances have conspired against him for this season but it was great to be able to share part of the story with him.

Upon arrival at the stadium, it was time to become reacquainted with another familiar face. Back in August, I met Jamie and his son at Wembley FC v Bearsted in the extra preliminary round. Since then, father and son have also attended a match in each round, although have chosen to follow the winner of each tie. We have kept in touch ever since and now our paths were able to cross again.

It was great to catch up and share tales of our respective travels but even more pleasing to see how a love of this great competition was being instilled in the next generation of supporter. Hopefully we get the chance to catch up again at the Final next month.

The one and only previous FA Cup semi-final I had attended prior to this was at Villa Park in 2001. It was a different experience to witness a club match at Wembley that wasn’t a final although the atmosphere still gave it the feel of the culmination of this competition.

As the first half developed, United grew more and more into the contest and, while City never looked overawed, it felt like it would be the Red Devils celebrating first.

Scott McTominay duly obliged before Harry Maguire added a second with a bullet header just ahead of the interval. Coventry were still in the game but you just had the feeling that United were comfortable. Indeed, such thoughts seemed more than justified when Bruno Fernandes added a third with more than half an hour to play.

Leaning over to Chris, we both felt the tie was over and, with twenty minutes still remaining, United could start to think about the Final. City, of course, had other ideas.

Ellis Simms levelled with twenty minutes to go before the hugely impressive Callum O’Hare added a second, benefiting from a monster deflection that saw the ball loop over André Onana.

Red and Sky Blue packed into Wembley for Sunday's game

The Sky Blues kept pressing and their efforts were rewarded in stoppage time as Aaron Wan-Bissaka was adjudged to have handled in the penalty area, giving Haji Wright the opportunity to force extra time, making no mistake from 12 yards.

The previously buoyant United fans had been stunned into silence while the Coventry supporters were in raptures, orchestrating a hugely impressive atmosphere with Robins and his troops the conductors. This was finely balanced with an extra 30 minutes to play.

Tired legs seemed to be at a premium though as both teams went for victory. The Reds couldn’t break through Bradley Collins but at the other end, City thought they had the most memorable of moments when Victor Torp finished from close range with the final whistle seemingly imminent.

However, the delight of the Sky Blues was soon wiped from the history books as VAR intervened and ruled Wright to have been offside in the build-up.

And so to penalties, my first experience of the dreaded finale during this journey.

Collins saved from Casemiro first to give the Championship side an advantage but O’Hare later saw his effort thwarted by Onana and Ben Sheaf fired over to put ten Haag’s side into the Final.

It was heartbreak for City. What a story it would have been for them to reach the Final. The stage was theirs on the day and they can truly hold their heads high as the stars of the show.

And so United will do battle with cross-town neighbours Manchester City in the Final next month. A journey that for me began just up the road from the home of football with two sides from the ninth tier of the English game will end with two of the giants of the sport.

I don’t want this ride to end.

Matt's Road to Wembley so far....

Quarter-final: Manchester City 2-0 Newcastle United 

Fifth round proper: Coventry City 5-0 Maidstone 

Fourth round proper: Ipswich Town 2-3 Maidstone 

Third round proper: Middlesbrough 1-2 Aston Villa 

Second round proper: Maidstone 2-1 Barrow 

First round proper: Ramsgate 2-1 Woking & Sheppey United 1-4 Walsall 

Fourth round qualifying: AFC Totton 0-1 Ramsgate 

Third round qualifying: Gorleston 0-1 Hemel Hempstead Town

Second round qualifying: Ascot United 1-2 Lewes

First round qualifying: Flackwell Heath v Farnham Town

Preliminary round: Lordswood 1-1 Cray Valley (PM)

Extra preliminary round: Wembley 1-1 Bearsted

By Matt Bass