Keegan humbled as minnows Rovers come within a whisker of upsetting Anfield legends

The FA Cup has a habbit of producing memorable clashes, giving part-time footballers the chance to pit their wits against the best players in the world.

Doncaster Rovers were on a good run in 1974, but nobody gave the minnows from South Yorkshire a chance when fate pitted them against then League and UEFA Cup champions, Liverpool, in the third round.

Bill Shankly’s side had finally realised their potential the previous season, ending their seven-year spell without a trophy.

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A successful Division One campaign at the expense of runners-up Arsenal and third-place Leeds United was followed by victory in the UEFA Cup as Liverpool began their footballing dominance over Europe, something which lasted the best part of two decades.

Meanwhile, Doncaster Rovers were fighting tooth and nail to avoid the drop into non-league football, as they sat rock-bottom of the old Fourth Division.

Ninety-one places separated them from their intimidating opponents in this classic David and Goliath clash that epitomises the FA Cup.

In the build-up to the game the newspapers played on the significance of Kevin Keegan’s ‘Donny’ roots. “The home game that Kevin wants to miss” read one headline, while other papers talked about his introduction to football – standing on the terraces at Belle Vue to support the Rovers, or the fact that he was “overlooked” by his hometown club and had to start his career at Scunthorpe.

At 3pm on January 5, 1974, there was no indication of what a fantastic advert for this great competition it would be when the teams lined up at Anfield.

Liverpool, ominously, scored with their first attack after Phil Thompson sent Steve Heighway clear.The move was finally completed when Callaghan centred for Keegan, who ruthlessly headed home past Rovers goalkeeper Kim Book.

Fans feared the worst for Doncaster, who had squandered a great chance just before Liverpool scored, with Mike Elwiss fluffing his shot in front of the Kop.

With only three minutes played it seemed likely Liverpool would score at will, and it was just a case of how many.

But Doncaster silenced the Anfield crowd and immediately got back into the game when Ray Clemence fumbled a tame shot from Peter Kitchen.

Liverpool showed complacency when the resulting corner was only half-cleared and put back into the box by Woods for Kitchen to toe poke under the England goalkeeper.

The game was still young with only six minutes on the clock, but Doncaster continued to play a quality passing game that belied their position at the foot of the English Football League.

After 19 minutes they were in dreamland when three Reds were beaten by a cross from Murray and the ball fell to summer signing Brendan O’Callaghan, who rifled it past Clemence to stun the Anfield faithful.

The South Yorkshire side continued to threaten the Liverpool goal, before teenager Thompson hit the bar for the Reds. Half-time arrived with the visitors holding an unlikely 2-1 lead.

The Reds came out with more fight in the second half, desperate not to be the victims of a classic FA Cup giantkilling.

Inevitably it was Keegan who got his side level against his hometown club. It was a replica of the first goal, with Callaghan again providing a cross for the lively Keegan to head home.

Liverpool went on to dominate the final half-hour but could not find a way through as they struggled to create an opening, with only a goal-line clearance preventing Peter Cormack from sparing Liverpool’s blushes.

It was Doncaster who almost snatched a winner, however, when Kitchen nearly provided a perfect end to the game for the visitors in the final minutes.

He lobbed the ball over the rooted Clemence only for it to hit the underside of the cross-bar and be cleared off the line by Alec Lindsay.

The game finished 2-2. Doncaster Rovers had lived with one of best teams on the continent, one who would go on to win the Cup after winning the replay 2-0, with Doncaster putting in another bold display as Keegan got his wish “to play on the hallowed turf of Belle Vue”.