Football / FA Cup Final: Bottom mark and a must-do-better: Richard Williams laments the paucity of ideas shown by both teams

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The Independent Online
SOME OF the players swapped jerseys afterwards, presumably in the hope of avoiding recognition on the way home. Actually, not many of them could have been mistaken for footballers between the hours of three o'clock and half past five yesterday afternoon. This was surely one of the worst finals in the 112-year history of the FA Cup, and if the Duke and Duchess of Kent turn up for the replay on Thursday night, we'll know that the Royal family's PR men really do have the upper hand.

Neutrals who were not close to a television set will need to be told that the utterly negligible nature of the match was by no means all Arsenal's fault. It takes two teams to make such a nullity, and Sheffield Wednesday were every bit as much to blame for the lack of enterprise and entertainment on display in what is supposed to be the annual showpiece of the English game, watched around the world.

The match was never going to have the special vibrancy of that extraordinary all-Sheffield semi- final, while the fact that Wednesday and Arsenal had already met in one Wembley cup final this spring certainly must have had something to do with the curious lack of drama afflicting the entire two hours of yesterday's play. But those who hoped that the disappointing quality of the Coca-Cola Cup final - disappointing, that is, to all except Arsenal fans - was merely the result of the teams clearing their throats in preparation for the senior event were proved to have been the victims of a sad delusion. As far as a neutral eye could see, these two sets of players and their managers had kept nothing in reserve.

It could have been Waddle's match. It should have been Waddle's match. It would have been, had not John Jensen, Arsenal's Danish international midfield man, brought his disappointing season to a climax by blotting out the football writers' player of the year. Jensen's performance suggested that he must have spent the week watching old videos of Peter Storey, so assiduously destructive were his every thought and deed until the point, five minutes into the second period of extra time, when Waddle retired from the field, making way for the legs of Chris Bart-Williams - 14 years younger but, as it turned out in the few remaining minutes, no more effective But a Waddle on top form would surely have destroyed Jensen.

In fact the one brief passage of play in which the Wednesday man dominated his marker did lead to his team regaining parity. Just before the hour, Waddle got in the mood and started taunting Jensen. In one classic movement, he turned anti-clockwise through a full 360 degrees with the ball never more than a couple of inches from the outside of his left boot, leaving the Dane befuddled as the ensuing pass threaded its way into the Arsenal area. Wednesday seemed to gain heart and momentum from this, one of the day's few exhibitions of technical excellence, and within a couple of minutes a fine combination had brought them level.

The scoring move was begun by John Sheridan and ended by David Hirst, and it was just about the only notable thing either of them did all day - except, in Sheridan's case, to take a free- kick from just outside the right- hand edge of the penalty area. With only a minute to go before the end of the first period of extra time, and with Waddle palely loitering behind him, having already tested Seaman from the same angle and slightly further out in the first half of normal time, this was a singularly bad idea.

But a list of the bad ideas trotted out in this match could have filled several notebooks. One would like to have taken pleasure, for instance, in the appearance as a substitute of David O'Leary, who came on in place of Ian Wright at the start of extra time, but the gruesome sight of Arsenal playing five at the back throughout the final half-hour banished charitable thoughts even towards that distinguished veteran.

John Sheridan and Paul Davis, the two men with the responsibility to make the play, couldn't have filled a teaspoon with the essence of invention. In Davis's case, after a career blighted by an disgraceful miscarriage of justice some years ago, it would have been particularly rewarding to see that silky left foot controlling the game. But it didn't happen.

As the goalscorers in what was, lest we forget, an FA Cup Final, David Hirst and Ian Wright are probably entitled to take a small amount of pleasure away from an otherwise barren afternoon. For Wright, it was certainly a more satisfying occasion than any of his Wembley appearances with England. He began this season with his picture on a poster that represented a clear case of bringing the advertising profession into disrepute. 'Gary Who?' was what it said, an insult to the departed Lineker and, one imagined, an example of hubris that might come to haunt the man who hoped to be his successor. Think what happened to all those Nike athletes in Barcelona last year. Wasn't it asking too much of Wright to live up to a copywriter's promises?

Well, no, it wasn't. He has yet to find his niche in Graham Taylor's England team - and, given his age and Les Ferdinand's display against the Netherlands, perhaps he never will. But his strike and Waddle's pirouette were the only things worth taking home from Wembley yesterday.

George Graham and Trevor Francis won't see it this way, but they owe the nation a proper football match in four days' time.