Football: Dalglish 'delighted' to serve up something more deserving for the fans

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The Independent Online
THE Grand Old Lady of football competitions has been treated with scant respect in some quarters of late. She's not what she was, we were told, and nowhere was her fading charm more apparent than here at our game's finest club stadium.

How appropriate then that the FA Cup should make such a stirring, defiant statement at the home of Manchester United. The message is that there is still splendid, vibrant life in the venerable dear yet.

A modest Premiership side and an above average First Division team were never likely to camouflage the technical and strategic limitations of English football. However, their common zeal and combativeness perhaps helped to serve to restore the stature and allure of the Cup in the nation's perception.

The atmosphere at Old Trafford enhanced the occasion. The towering stands reverberated with tribal passions rarely known when the landlords are at home. Nothing fires the emotions like a challenge to a supporter's devotion.

The loyalty of Newcastle's followers has been severely tested this season. On the field and off, the club has served the faithful shabbily. It is impossible to overstate the significance of this passage to Wembley for all at St James', not least their manager, Kenny Dalglish.

For seasoned players such as Alan Shearer, Stuart Pearce, John Barnes and David Batty, too, this was an opportunity to buff up tainted reputations. Pride as much as self-belief carried Newcastle over the remaining hurdle.

Their anxiety before Shearer's goal was never more apparent than when Batty picked himself up from an aerial collision to confront his assailant, only to discover it was a team-mate, a startled Nikolaos Dabizis.

Sheffield United, who return to the business of competing for a place in the play-offs, contributed their heroic part in honouring the Old Lady. Marcelo might have scored in the first half, Wayne Quinn almost did late in the second.

Newcastle were reduced to desperation in the closing exchanges, the tension evident in every strained tackle, every frantic appeal, but ultimately justice was done.

Dalglish said: "I'm delighted more for our fans than ourselves, because they deserve better than we've served up. It's a reward for some of the league results and performances.

"I don't remember anybody questioning the magic of the Cup, not unless they are out of it. It's testimony to the quality of our players as professional footballers and to the people that they have turned adversity into a Wembley appearance."