Football / FA Cup Final: Blame put on fatigue

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The Independent Online
BLAME for the generally dull quality of the FA Cup Final was laid at a familiar door: the length of the English football season. 'The two teams gave everything they had,' the Arsenal manager George Graham said, 'but tiredness took its toll after a long hard season.'

The result did not surprise the Sheffield Wednesday manager Trevor Francis. 'The Coca-Cola final was only decided on a mistake by Carlton Palmer and we were always in the game today. I thought we would get back into it after Arsenal scored and we did. I felt my boys came on stronger in extra time. I felt we could win.'

Francis was thus confident of the outcome of Thursday's replay. 'I know we've got enough in the side to beat Arsenal provided we give one of our very good performances. I tipped Arsenal for the championship at the start of the season. That's the measure of respect I have for them because they are so resolute.'

Graham said: 'I've no more players to call on for the replay. I have no more tricks up my sleeve but I feel we can go up a few gears. There are talented players on both sides and they are well organised. We are never going to beat each other by three or four goals.'

Ian Wright, the Arsenal goalscorer substituted because of a toe injury, was adamant he would play in the replay. He said: 'There is no chance of me not being fit for Thursday. My toe feels a bit sore and I was tired so it didn't surprise me to be taken off. I have no complaints. I haven't been able to train properly. I knew there was never a Wembley jinx on me and today I proved it. I will score if the right opportunities come along.'

John Harkes, the American who had a hand in Wednesday's equaliser, said of the goal: 'I was going to hit it in, but David (Hirst) was coming in front of the goal and it was better shooting from that angle than my angle. Plus he shouted, 'I'll take it' at the last minute so I gave it to him.'

Paul Warhurst, Wednesday's prolific defender-turned attacker, said: 'I was told to play in defence out of the blue when Peter Shirtliff failed a fitness test but I would prefer to play in attack after all the goals I have scored.

'The two teams cancelled each other out. Both sides know everything about each other tactically. We were stronger than Arsenal in the second half and in extra time and I think we were fitter.'

Francis is ready to ask his Swedish international defender Roland Nilsson to play two matches in two days - the replay on Thursday just 24 hours after Sweden's World Cup qualifier against Austria in Stockholm. Francis said: 'I might be forced to ask him to play twice in two days. I will have to look at it but it is a World Cup match in Stockholm and I can't do anything about it if Sweden want him for that.'

Nilsson said: 'If Trevor wants me to play on Thursday, I'll play. It is bad timing, but I don't want to miss either match.'