Football / FA Cup Final: Labour shortage forces strike action from production line: Hampered by poor service, Ian Wright and David Hirst had to help themselves at Wembley. Trevor Haylett reports

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The Independent Online
THERE HAVE been better days to be a striker as there have been better days on which to be a football spectator. The service was so irregular it would have shamed British Rail. Yet, at the end, the only names on the Cup final scoreboard, a shining oasis amid so much gloom, were theirs: Ian Wright and David Hirst.

Neither was fully fit: Hirst palpably short by some way of rediscovering his explosive power and familiarity with the ball while Wright has not trained since breaking a toe four weeks ago.

With goalscorers, though, you trade off the missing bits for what they can provide at the moments of greatest expectation. Trevor Francis summed it up best. 'Hirst? He's about three months away from fitness,' the Sheffield Wednesday manager said, 'but he can score a goal.'

It took Hirst nine minutes to get his first touch and Wright was considerably more involved early on. Playing predominantly in the centre-cum-left of Arsenal's attack there was room for him, given Chris Waddle's more central assignation, to hug the left touchline at times and join in with the build-up play. His greater appetite for work also had him scuttling back on occasion to make the sort of tackles normally expected of defenders.

He is so difficult to mark because he is hardly ever still. He likes to drift between defenders, creating uncertainty among them as to who should pick him up. Wednesday had no specific plans to counteract this, detailing the nearest man to look after him and, well as Paul Warhurst performed, the versatile centre-back was seriously lax for Arsenal's 21st- minute goal.

Paul Davis's free-kick floated deep to the far post and as Andy Linighan began his climb above Mark Bright, Wright had already slipped away from Warhurst's watch. The ball evaded the Wednesday man and Wright's instincts were correct, taking him to the perfect position in which to steer a header beyond Chris Woods.

It was one of three scoring attempts, all of which required saves, an amazing level of consistency that has always enhanced Wright's contribution at club level. He nearly settled the issue a minute from time when from a difficult volleying position he forced the England goalkeeper to palm over.

There was little in the remainder of Wright's performance, before he made way at the end of normal time, to justify the charge that his touch is short of the highest class. His control and passing was pretty much spot-on. To Hirst, the ball often resembled a bar of soap he could not keep hold of.

Hardly ever did he stray deep, his movement confined across the full width of the Arsenal back line, though whether on left or right he seldom found the room to unleash his running qualities or phenomenal strength of shot.

Only once did he escape for what could be classified a run on goal, slipping a defender to drive at the target only for David Seaman to turn the effort aside.

However, his ineffectiveness was forgotten when John Sheridan delivered from the right and John Harkes showed great awareness to lay the ball on to the left foot that, off-form or on, is always a deadly weapon in front of goal. One-all, the teams and their assassins even Stevens. They at least had reason to be satisfied with their Wembley afternoon.

(Graphic omitted)

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