Chris Wilder and Thomas Tuchel go head to head this weekend (Picture: Getty)

They may be known as the quarter-finals these days but this weekend’s last-eight line-up for the FA Cup is a prime slice of 1990s nostalgia.

As if having the competition back on BBC and ITV didn’t seem like enough of a throwback, the four ties drawn out of the hat feel like they belong very much in a time when sixth-round day was one of the biggest in the football calendar.

As is usual these days, six of the contenders are top-flight clubs but all eight were founder members of the Premier League back in 1992. Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest may have endured lean times since those halcyon days but, with two Premier League scalps apiece in their stirring cup campaigns, this weekend’s opponents Chelsea and Liverpool cannot afford to under-estimate the Championship duo.

Renewing old rivalries

Middlesbrough’s one FA Cup final appearance to date came against tomorrow’s opponents Chelsea, although their dreams that day didn’t last very long — Roberto Di Matteo firing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net after just 42 seconds against a Bryan Robson side featuring the likes of Juninho, Fabrizio Ravanelli and Emerson.

Roberto Di Matteo
17 May 1997: Roberto Di Matteo’s stunner sank Boro in 1997 (Picture Getty)

They may not have got the upper hand then but older Boro fans will have fonder memories of the 1988 play-off which saw Boro triumph 2-1 on aggregate and brought about Chelsea’s last relegation from the top flight — an encounter that became known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge, with violent scenes in and outside the ground.

There has been plenty of bad feeling in the build-up to this weekend with Chelsea, unable to sell tickets to their own fans because of the sanctions on Roman Abramovich, suggesting it should be played behind closed doors which prompted Boro chairman Steve Gibson to respond: ‘Sporting integrity and Chelsea do not belong in the same sentence.’

Younger Liverpool supporters must be curious as to why their fans still belt out ‘We hate Nottingham Forest…’ but it was Brian Clough’s team of the late 1970s and 1980s who knocked the Anfield club off their pedestal, first of all by lifting their league title, then by knocking the winners of two consecutive European Cups out of the tournament before going on to win two themselves.

It was still a raucous fixture going into the Premier League era, Teddy Sheringham’s winner in the first televised Premier League game in 1992 certainly considered no great surprise at the time, but the sides have not met since Forest’s last relegation in 1999.

Of course, this fixture in the FA Cup will also bring back awful memories for many, with the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 when 97 Liverpool fans lost their lives at a semi-final between the two clubs.

New beginnings

Both Boro and Forest had fallen on hard times to become Championship fixtures in recent years — the Riverside having hosted Premier League football in just one of the last 12 seasons, while Forest’s 23-year top-flight exile has included three years in League One.

When Chris Wilder arrived at Boro at the start of November, fans had grown restless with performances under Neil Warnock, who was sacked with them 14th in the table. Wilder’s appointment felt like a coup given the way he transformed boyhood club Sheffield United during five seasons there.

Nottingham Forest v Huddersfield Town: The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
Forest have already eliminated Premier League sides Leicester and Arsenal (Picture: Getty)

Not only has he taken Boro to the fringes of the play-offs, he has done it with the eye-catching style that won him so many plaudits at Bramall Lane, with youngsters Isaiah Jones, Dael Fry and Marcus Tavernier attracting Premier League interest while Jonny Howson pulls the strings in midfield.

Forest were at an even lower ebb when Steve Cooper arrived, having taken one point from seven games and with fans tired of negative football under Chris Hughton. Nothing Cooper has done since walking into the City Ground has been negative. Forest’s form is only second to Fulham’s, with the supporters having lapped up the Welshman’s fist-bumps as Depeche Mode’s ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’ blares out after home victories.

Forest are particularly strong on the right flank where the pace of Djed Spence — on loan from Middlesbrough — and Brennan Johnson wreaks havoc, while January signings Keinan Davis and Sam Surridge have added potency.

The giant-ish giant-killers

The Championship giant-killers have done more than anyone to ensure not all of the usual suspects are competing for a place in the Wembley semi-finals.Having needed a 95th-minute winner to prevail 3-2 in a third-round thriller at Mansfield, few outside of Boro’s 9,000 travelling supporters expected Wilder’s side to get through a tie at Manchester United but Matt Crooks scored a second-half equaliser before the visitors claimed an unforgettable penalty shoot-out victory.

‘The FA Cup is alive and kicking, especially in Middlesbrough,’ said Wilder, after a night when much of the focus fell on United’s missed chances.

But there could be no doubt Middlesbrough deserved the 1-0 victory over Tottenham that earned them a home quarter-final against Chelsea, teenage substitute Josh Coburn scoring an extra-time winner.

Forest have maximised home advantage — beating the two previous winners in rounds three and four. Lewis Grabban’s late goal saw off Arsenal while Forest raced into a 3-0 lead over holders Leicester in the space of ten crazy first-half minutes.

That led to a Leicester fan attacking home players celebrating the third goal from Joe Worrall as Forest eventually ran out 4-1 winners.

Another local lad, Ryan Yates, who this week signed a contract up to 2025, grabbed the fifth-round winner against Huddersfield to secure a first quarter-final since 1996 and bring Liverpool to town this Sunday.

Should either Chelsea or Liverpool exit the competition this weekend, it would be the biggest shock yet but whatever happens this year’s FA Cup has already breathed new life into two blasts from the past.

MORE : ‘Baffling’ Chelsea request for no fans at FA Cup tie slammed by Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder

MORE : Jurgen Klopp reveals Liverpool secret after Champions League draw with Benfica

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