Mark McGhee has revealed why he ‘benched’ Steve Bull and Robbie Keane in Wolves’ last FA Cup semi-final – and who they should dedicate a Cup victory to.
McGhee, now 61, was manager when Wolves were beaten 1-0 by Arsenal at Villa Park in 1998, but for years fans have wondered by why he didn’t start the game with the two goalscorers.
Wolves, who face Watford at Wembley in their first semi-final since that day tomorrow, never looked like retrieving Christopher Wreh’s 12th-minute goal and the Gunners went on to win the Double.
Bull replaced Don Goodman in the 68th minute while Keane came on for Kevin Muscat for the last eight minutes, but there was no way back.
Both Bull and Keane started Wolves next League game – a 1-0 defeat at Charlton. By this time Bull, at 33, was beginning to feel the effects of the knee trouble that would finish his career 14 months later, but still started three of the four League games either side of the semi-final, while Keane only began three of the last 11 League matches.
“I think we set up trying to be very compact to try to give ourselves a chance of winning the game without being too expansive,” said McGhee.
“One thing I remember being asked about was why Robbie Keane didn’t play. We felt he was done for – all ‘puffed out’ for the season – and we thought very strongly that it would be a step too far for him at the time.
“It was a shame because had it have been three or four months earlier, he might have been the difference in creating something or getting a goal.
“But we were beaten by a fantastic team and couldn’t have any complaints.”
As for not starting with Bully – winger Paul Simpson wore the number nine shirt that day and Steve Claridge was up front – McGhee explained: “The nature of the game dictated the team I picked. The idea was to get to 20 minutes to go with the score at 0-0 and Bully would come on and score the winner.
“I don’t remember being asked immediately after the game about it and I didn’t have any regrets about the team I picked on the day.
“I certainly wouldn’t say we were there for a day out or that we went there and accepted defeat. Arsenal were better but we went there to stymie them and tried to find a way of beating them.
“It wasn’t a case of thinking we couldn’t beat them. But we never looked like winning the game at any stage. They were too good for us.”
McGhee, who is currently managing south coast side Eastbourne Borough in National League South, believes one Wolves icon should not be forgotten in this Cup run.
It was always Sir Jack Hayward’s dream to one day lift the FA Cup but sadly it never happened.
With that aim as close as it has been for 21 years, McGhee reckons if they win it for the first time in 59 years, it will be a fitting tribute to his memory and legacy.
“The one thing that comes to mind is Sir Jack. At the time (1998) the team was not going to win titles but his dream was to win the FA Cup and I remember how badly he took it that we didn’t get through,” recalled the Scot.
“Maybe this time around they will do it and they might dedicate it to him. That would be nice as it was his dream.”
McGhee has a vested interest in the semi-finals – and not just because he managed two of the teams involved, Wolves and Brighton.
His young son Archie is a big fan of Brighton and is travelling to Wembley today to watch them against Manchester City while dad’s team hosts Gloucester City.
“My son Archie is a massive Brighton fan and he is going to the game so I hope for his sake that they can do it,” said McGhee, who settled near Brighton when he managed them from 2003-06.
“He was born in Brighton but I have two other boys who are considerably older – Mark (37) and Ben (32) – and who would probably consider themselves Wolves fans because when they were Ben’s age they remembered me being there. But Archie is a dyed-in-the-wool Brighton fan.
“If it’s a Wolves-Brighton final I will be there. And even though I live near Brighton and managed them, I would still support Wolves because I loved my time there.”
So how does he think the Wolves-Watford semi will go?
“I am backing Wolves all the way in who I want to win but it’s a game you can’t really call because Watford are a powerful side with one or two really strong players,” he said.
“For the football they play and their movement, Wolves are the team you want to watch. I have loved watching them this season, but Watford are very organised tactically with the ability to stymie teams and make it really difficult for them.
“I think if Wolves get the first goal then they could win the game comfortably, but if Watford get it, Wolves could be in trouble.”
McGhee is only relieved Nuno Espirito Santo’s side don’t have to cope with the favourite in the draw, like his Class of ’98 had to.
“The most important thing in the draw was we were all praying for either Sheffield United or Newcastle because we really fancied our chances against either of those. But we drew the short straw,” he said.
“It’s a bit like now: One of Wolves or Watford will get to the final and Brighton have drawn the short straw by getting Manchester City. I just hope Wolves do it.”