FA Cup: Mathematical research reveals ten BIGGEST third round giant-killings of all time


The third round of the FA Cup has become synonymous over the years with giant-killings such as Woking’s victory over West Brom in 1991 and more recently Newport’s victory over current holders Leicester in 2019.

This season there will be EFL clubs looking to cause an upset against Premier League opposition while there are four non-league sides, including Cheltenham who face Champions League holders Chelsea, who will be dreaming of adding their names to famous giant-killings.

Ahead of this weekend’s third round, the FA has released new mathematical research that has revealed the ten biggest shock victories.

Non-league Chesterfield will be hoping to become the latest team to pull off a giant-killing when they face Chelsea

Leicester are the current FA Cup holders but have been on the wrong end of giant-killings in the past

Leicester are the current FA Cup holders but have been on the wrong end of giant-killings in the past

Using probability theory, the FA teamed up with the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at the University of Bath, to verify a list of the least likely scorelines from the last 50 years of the competition. 

The list has been based on 8,152 FA Cup ties provided by Opta, with a 50-year period from 1959-60 to 2009-10 considered due to restrictions of available data and changes in the competition format.

All probabilities have been calculated based upon the modern format of the competition, with a club’s league level at the time of these fixtures compared with the current pyramid structure.

10. Newport County 2-1 Leicester City (2019) 

Probability – 1 in 337

Newport County defeated Leicester City (current Emirates FA Cup holders) in the 2019 edition at the Third Round stage thanks to Padraig Amond’s late penalty. 

Jamille Matt’s header gave the Exiles an early advantage against a side 74 league places above them. 

Rachid Ghezzai smashed the Foxes level in the 82nd minute before Amond’s 85th-minute spot kick sent the Rodney Parade crowd into raptures as Newport produced one of the most memorable results in their history. 

The result was the first time Leicester had been eliminated from the FA Cup by a side in the fourth tier or lower since number eight in the list when Harlow Town knocked them out in a third-round replay in 1979-80.

Padraig Armond celebrates after scoring in Newport's victory over Leicester back in 2019

Padraig Armond celebrates after scoring in Newport’s victory over Leicester back in 2019

Leicester players including Christian Fuchs walk off dejected after their shocking loss to Newport

Leicester players including Christian Fuchs walk off dejected after their shocking loss to Newport 

9. Derby County 1-3 Bristol Rovers (2002)

Probability – 1 in 397

Bristol Rovers became the first Third Division club to win an FA Cup tie against Premier League opposition away from home when they defeated Derby at Pride Park in 2002. 

Nathan Ellington was the hat-trick hero for Rovers, who sat 87th out of 92 league clubs at the time.

8. Harlow Town 1-0 Leicester City (1980) 

Probability – 1 in 1,800

Harlow Town of the Isthmian League celebrated their centenary season in style with a shock Third Round win over Second Division Leicester. 

The Foxes were riding high in a season that would see them promoted back to the First Division but could only manage a 1-1 draw at Filbert Street.

Almost 10,000 attended the replay at Harlow Sports Centre with Leicester including a young Gary Lineker in their side. A John MacKenzie strike three minutes before half time would prove decisive.

7. Burnley 0-1 Wimbledon (1975)

Probability – 1 in 2,515

Wimbledon, then in the Southern League, upset top-flight Burnley at Turf Moor with Mick Mahon hitting the winner in a 1-0 victory. 

Allen Batsford’s non-league side were given little chance of progressing to the Fourth Round against a Burnley team near the top of the First Division, but Wimbledon became the first non-league team in 55 years to defeat top-flight opposition on their own ground.

6. Sutton United 2-1 Coventry City (1989) 

Probability – 1 in 3,260

Coventry City had been the holders just 18 months earlier when they travelled south to take on Sutton United. 

The Sky Blues arrived in Surrey with confidence after a solid start to their season in the top division, so few people expected an upset. 

But Coventry were left stunned as goals from Tony Rains and Matthew Hanlan secured a famous victory for the Conference side who were managed by English teacher Barrie Williams.

Sutton United players celebrate in the dressing room after their famous win over Coventry

Sutton United players celebrate in the dressing room after their famous win over Coventry

5. Oxford United 3-2 Swansea City (2016)

Probability – 1 in 3,487

Kemar Roofe was the hero as League Two Oxford knocked Premier League Swansea out of the competition at the Kassam Stadium. 

Swansea took the lead after 23 minutes but three Oxford goals in the space of 14 minutes, including two for Roofe, sealed a memorable win for The U’s.

Bafetimbi Gomis got one back after 66 minutes but the Swans were unable to peg the League Two side back.  

Kemar Roofe scored twice to dump out Premier League side Swansea from the FA Cup

Kemar Roofe scored twice to dump out Premier League side Swansea from the FA Cup

4. Birmingham City 1-2 Altrincham (1986) 

Probability – 1 in 4,376

Alliance Premier League side Altrincham gained a reputation for testing top-flight teams in the competition having held Everton and Tottenham to draws in the 1970s, but their most improbable result came against First Division Birmingham in 1986.

After going behind to a Robert Hopkins opener, the non-league side soon equalised through Ronnie Ellis. 

Hopkins’ fortunes turned soon after when his misplaced pass went beyond a young David Seaman and into his own goal allowing the Cheshire side to become only the second non-league team to beat top-flight opposition away from home. 

3. Stevenage 3-1 Newcastle United (2011) 

Probability – 1 in 7,712

One of the biggest upsets at this stage of the competition in recent history as League Two Stevenage, enjoying their first season of league football, beat Newcastle and became only the fourth top-flight team since the formation of the Premier League to lose to fourth-tier opposition. 

Stacy Long gave Stevenage the lead, before Michael Bostwick added a second.

Cheick Tiote’s dismissal did not help Newcastle’s cause and, even though Joey Barton pulled one back, Peter Winn sealed a famous victory in injury time. 

Newcastle players walk off dejected as Stevenage scored a famous stoppage-time winner

Newcastle players walk off dejected as Stevenage scored a famous stoppage-time winner

2. Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United (1972) 

 Probability – 1 in 32,449

A result that has gone down in Emirates FA Cup folklore, aided by one of the most famous goals in the history of the competition. 

The Bulls, then of the Southern League, held First Division Newcastle United to a 2-2 draw at St James’ Park and went one better in the replay. 

Trailing to Malcolm Macdonald’s 85th-minute header, Hereford rallied courtesy of Ronnie Radford’s 35-yard thunderbolt and Ricky George’s extra-time winner.   

Hereford fans rush onto the pitch after Ronnie Rashford's late equaliser before they went on to beat Newcastle

Hereford fans rush onto the pitch after Ronnie Rashford’s late equaliser before they went on to beat Newcastle

1. West Brom 2-4 Woking (1991) 

Probability – 1 in 15,959,312 

A Tim Buzaglo hat-trick helped steer Woking, then of the Isthmian League, to a stunning 4-2 win over Second Division West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.

The result was made all the more improbable as the Baggies took the lead through Colin West, but the visitors roared back in the second half. 

Buzaglo netted an 11-minute treble and Terry Worsfold made it 4-1 on 88 minutes.

Darren Bradley reduced arrears a minute later, but Geoff Chapple’s side held on for a remarkable Third Round victory, which has been listed as the most improbable Third Round victory.  

Chapple said: ‘My football management career will forever be defined by this match.

Tim Buzaglo wrote his name into history with a hat-trick for Isthmian League Woking against then Second Division West Brom

Tim Buzaglo wrote his name into history with a hat-trick for Isthmian League Woking against then Second Division West Brom

‘Before the game they all said we had no chance on paper, but thankfully we weren’t playing on paper. I always told the team we had hope, even if it was a one in 16 million chance!

‘I remember sitting there after the match thinking: ‘Am I dreaming? This can’t be happening. We’re from Surrey, nobodies, what’s going on here?’ 

‘Our players were part-time. We had couriers, painters, decorators and builders. But I always used to instil in them that anything was possible, especially in the FA Cup, and this result proved it. 

‘Even 31 years later, the positive impact of this result on the club and on the community still lives on to this day – that’s how special the FA Cup is. 

Commenting on the research, Dr Adwaye Rambojun, Research Associate at the Institute for Mathematical Innovation at the University of Bath, said: ‘The conditions surrounding Woking’s win had probability stacked against them but, somehow, they managed to produce a result that would likely happen only once every 15,959,312 attempts. 

‘Woking’s achievements in winning the match were remarkable enough but the fact that they went behind in the match and then scored four second-half goals before West Brom’s late consolation is what makes this result and scoreline so improbable.

‘It’s an outcome that defies logic but, as our ranking proves, on any given day the unthinkable can happen. That’s the magic of the Emirates FA Cup and we have seen it time and again throughout the competition’s illustrious history.’

Woking manager Geoff Chapple (right) celebrates with Buzaglo after Woking's victory

Woking manager Geoff Chapple (right) celebrates with Buzaglo after Woking’s victory

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk