Monty’s semi-final history memorable for one infamous moment

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Hibs boss leads team out at Hampden for first time tomorrow - hoping for better luck as a gaffer

He might have mentioned his half chance of a header at the back post. Or dropped in a humblebrag about how hard Ashley Cole – the best left back in England at the time – had to work just to keep a young Nick Montgomery in check.

When the Hibs boss thinks back to the 2003 FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, though, there’s only one infamous incident that springs immediately to mind.

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In his mind’s eye, Montgomery can still see Sheffield United team-mate Michael Tonge being “tackled” by referee Graham Poll in the build-up to Arsenal scoring the only goal of the game.

As he’s still in regular contact with former Blades gaffer Neil Warnock, having promised him a ticket to the Viaplay Cup Final if Hibs get past Aberdeen tomorrow, we can assume he’s right in reporting that his famously fiery old boss still mentions the flashpoint moment from time to time.

Harking back to season 2002-03, when Championship side United were beaten semi-finalists in both the League Cup and FA Cup, Montgomery said: “To get to the semi-final of the FA Cup and League Cup as a player was something that I look back on with good memories.

“We beat Liverpool at Bramall Lane then lost the second leg and went out in that semi-final.

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“To get to the semi-final against Arsenal at Old Trafford, I don’t know if anyone can remember the goal Arsenal scored – but it would have been disallowed if it was into today’s game.

“The referee tackled one of our players and Arsenal advanced through and scored a goal. Neil Warnock was not very happy with that at full-time … but we were so close to getting to a final.

“To lose to two teams like Arsenal and Liverpool, it was disappointing not getting to the final. But I think it was a great achievement we got to both semis in the same season.”

Dundee players left complaining about ref Kevin Clancy’s inadvertent block on Luke McCowan in their midweek loss to Rangers will take little comfort from knowing that, clearly, there’s nothing new in the odd accidental collision between officials and players.

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“I saw that,” said Montgomery. “If you look back, it also happened to us the other night – the referee got in the way.

“Anything that affects how the game is going, the game is stopped and it is a drop ball. One hundred per cent the game would have been stopped. Neil Warnock is still going on about it now!

“I cannot remember the referee’s name but if you Google it and watch, it was unbelievable when you look back. I think Freddie Ljungberg got on the end of a shot shortly afterwards - but it should never have happened, and we lost the game.

“So yes. I can laugh about it now, but it was definitely not funny on the day. 

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“We were a Championship team at the time. We got to the play-off final as well that season and lost that, too.

“Without actually getting promotion, which was the main objective, it was a great experience.

“I think we played 65 games that season, a lot of games in one season, a lot of ups - and ultimately at the end we finished empty handed. But I take great experience from those games and beating the big teams at Bramall Lane.

“Neil was all about team spirit and camaraderie and I’m really happy we’ve got a lot of that here; that is one thing I have been impressed with.”

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Montgomery hopes his own background in big games plays at least some part in the work he’s done this week, saying: “You take all the experiences you had as a player into management. And like any big game, it is easy to say but the team that turns up on the day and performs under the pressure of the occasion normally succeeds.

“I think we have enough experience and good young lads who can be helped by the experienced boys. I think we have a good mixture of youth and experience.  But ultimately, we will find that out after the final whistle tomorrow.”

Warnock will be watching with interest, apparently, Monty revealing: “When I got the job, I spoke to him.

“He said if we got to the final, he would come. Fingers crossed we can do that - and I will send him a ticket.”

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