Football / FA Cup Final: Underdogs unrewarded: Richard Williams sees misfortune strike a team who did not deserve their fate

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The Independent Online
AFTER the drizzle, the deluge. In this 113th FA Cup final, a completely forgettable first period was succeeded by a second half brimming with triumph and disaster, in which justice sometimes wore a blindfold and the nerves of good men cracked and shattered before the eyes of the world.

David Elleray had little choice but to give the two penalties that determined the course of the match between the 60th and the 65th minutes, but neither was the result of premeditated or even instinctive foul play. Both Eddie Newton's sliding tackle on Denis Irwin and Frank Sinclair's push on Andrei Kanchelskis were the result of mistakes, and the mortification of both offenders was pitiful to see. Sinclair's despair was compounded three minutes later when his failure to control the ball gave Mark Hughes the chance to take the match beyond Chelsea's wildest hopes.

Manchester United deserve their Double. Like Bill Nicholson's Tottenham of 1960-61, they are a team to stir the imagination of neutrals, a team to make people see the point and the beauty of football. But they are not infallible - not yet, anyway - and in the first half they did nothing to make Glenn Hoddle suspect that such punishment might be on the way. The sight of Hughes on his knees in the Chelsea penalty area two minutes before half-time, beating his fists against the Wembley turf in frustration as Kanchelskis yet again failed to get the ball across, summed up the difficulty the champions had found in playing their part in a match which lived up to its advance billing only with the greatest reluctance.

Just then, some of us were asking why we had spent so much of the week looking forward to this match, which seemed to contain illustrious ghosts and living promise alike. Not since the 1991 meeting of Spurs and Forest - Venables, Lineker and Gazza versus the Clough family - had a Cup final appeared so alluring to the uncommitted. But half an hour before the kick-off, the clouds came to mask the sunshine that had seemed to cast the match in an anticipatory glow. A thin drizzle washed the colour from United's invention, although it could not dilute the essence of Chelsea's resolve, which might have borne early fruit, first when John Sinclair ran on to the admirable Newton's intelligent pass, and then when Gavin Peacock's looping shot rebounded off the bar.

United took an age to achieve anything remotely comparable. More than half an hour had gone when Giggs decided to show the dilatory Kanchelskis how to centre the ball from the right wing, guiding his left-footed cross over the defence on to the head of Cantona. The French genius,

curiously remote until then, was soon trying to put Kanchelskis away with a backheel so extravagant that not even Valeri Borzov would have stood a chance of catching it.

We had seen 45 minutes of the Manchester United of the Istanbul debacle, uncertain of how to deploy their instinct for spontaneity in the face of an inferior but well organised and highly committed opposition. Rediscovering their co-ordination only in the third quarter of the match, they should consider themselves lucky to have made such rich profit from Chelsea's misfortune. Brian McClair's fourth goal added a final stroke of the lash that the underdogs had done nothing to deserve.

After a difficult beginning to his time at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson has turned his custody of Manchester United into the stuff of football legend. Only by winning the Double, which Matt Busby never managed, could he step out of his great predecessor's shadow. Now he faces the final test of what he has built with this generation of players, and his unsentimental decision to leave Bryan Robson out of yesterday's action may well be the harbinger of other difficult but necessary changes to be made before autumn brings the challenge of Europe.

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