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JR: Wolves’ FA Cup defeat to United still hurts after all these years

Wolves legend John Richards is still rankled when he recalls FA Cup encounters against Manchester United.

Richards is keen for his old club to erase the memories of the Cup exit against United at the same quarter-final stage in 1976 when they take on the resurgent Red Devils on Saturday night.

The legendary goalscorer won three of his four sixth-round ties at Wolves, but the United one was the only time he finished on the losing side.

Richards scored in four quarter-finals including replays, with strikes in both United games.

But the United defeat still irritates him because they went so close to a semi-final spot.

Goals from Steve Kindon and Richards led Tommy Docherty’s side 2-0 in a Molineux replay after Richards’s effort at Old Trafford was cancelled out by Gerry Daly’s equaliser.

At Molineux, United halved the deficit through Stuart Pearson then Brian Greenhoff equalised to send the tie into extra-time, when Sammy McIlroy broke Wolves’ hearts with a winner.

“We should have won the replay,” admits Richards. “We’d been to Old Trafford on the Saturday and did well to come away with a draw to be fair.

“So once we got the draw we thought we could finish the job at Molineux.

“Then when we went 2-0 up after ‘Kindo’ and myself scored, the crowd were right behind us and it was a great opportunity for us.

“They got one back just before half-time and we struggled to keep the pace up in the second half.

“Really it was a case of trying to hold on to the lead, and, when you play like that, it’s always more difficult and then they got the equaliser and the winner late on.

“They were playing better than we were in the second half and really we should have finished it off.”

Richards felt Pearson’s strike, a far-post header after Lou Macari flicked the ball on from a corner, was a lifeline for United.

“If we’d had gone in at half-time 2-0 up, we’d have been up for it to finish it off,” he said.

“Their goal gave them a bit of impetus. If they’d have gone in 2-0 down, it would have given them a lot to cope with because on our day we could beat anyone, a bit like Wolves are at the moment.

“We always fancied our chances and I think the current Wolves team are similar to that, especially at Molineux.

“When I look back, that was a great chance for us to get to the semi-final, and then the final.”

The magic of the Cup in those days was shown in the size of the crowds, with the two games against United watched by just short of 100,000 people.

A gate of 59,433 were at Old Trafford and 44,373 piled into Molineux three days later.

But if he has unfortunate memories of his sixth-round encounters with United, Richards has happier recollections of his other FA Cup quarter-finals with Wolves.

He played a pivotal role in the 2-0 win against Coventry in 1973, scoring a classic goal after outpacing defender Bobby Parker to latch on to a Derek Dougan flick-on from a Frank Munro header, before winning the penalty scored by Kenny Hibbitt just after half-time.

At the same stage in 1981, Richards netted against Middlesbrough in the replay, tapping home Andy Gray’s cross in a 3-1 win.

He hit the post in the 1-1 draw at Ayresome Park, Gray heading Wolves’ goal, while he played in both games against Shrewsbury Town in 1979, when Wolves won 3-1 away after a 1-1 draw in the Molineux mud.

The Molineux last-eight ties against the Sky Blues and ‘Boro witnessed history as the last officially recorded 50,000 and 40,000 crowds respectively at the ground.

“The Coventry game was full of incidents,” recalled Richards. “It was the game where Derek Dougan got knocked out by Steve Kindon’s wayward shot in the warm-up! So Sammy Chung had to revive The Doog before we got going.

“He flicked on the ball for me in the first half to get past Bobby Parker and score.

“When I look back, it was one of my better goals. The odds were against me getting to the ball and in those days you could pass back to the goalkeeper anyway without being penalised, and I think he just thought I hadn’t got that sort of pace, but I did in those days!

“It was nice because it was at home in a quarter-final, with 50,000 there and we were up against a player who became one of our pals in Willie Carr.”

Coventry were on a 16-match unbeaten run at the time and Richards revealed that part of manager Bill McGarry’s team talk involved stopping Carr, who of course became a Wolves team-mate two years later.

“Yes, he was one of the players we talked about before the match, the way he could control the midfield from their point of view,” said Richards.

“But we had players such as Mike Bailey and Kenny Hibbitt, so we had some good midfielders ourselves, but Willie was always there and dangerous.

“With their unbeaten run at the time, they really fancied their chances, but again, the advantage of being at Molineux made the difference.

“Then we got a penalty in the second half when I was sandwiched by two of their players, but Kenny dispatched those like nobody’s business.

“It was a good performance against a good team. Hopefully this current Wolves team can do the same.”