Football: Romance disappears in the fog

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The Independent Online
Yeovil Town. . .1

Arsenal. . . . .3

ARSENAL have been called many things but no one has accused them of being romantics. They were cast as villains merely by being drawn against Yeovil Town in the FA Cup, and their manager, George Graham, had estimated that 99 per cent of the country wanted them to lose. It was probably an underestimate, but his side duly disappointed the vast majority.

An uneasy opening apart, it was a clinical and ruthless exhibition, a copybook example of how to squash potentially troublesome FA Cup opponents. Arsenal did not dazzle the GM Vauxhall Conference side with their football, but they dissected them with their finishing; well, Ian Wright's finishing. The England striker got a hat-trick to take his total to 14 for the season.

It was a relatively trouble-free afternoon for the Gunners, who must have feared the worst when they arrived at Huish Park. The infamous slope that accounted for League opponents in the past lies flattened and buried under a supermarket on the other side of town, yet Yeovil's new and normally cheerful ground could not have been more menacing yesterday.

Fog blanketed Somerset, providing such a doom-laden air that you half expected Peter Cushing to emerge from the mist with a clove of garlic and a worried expression. Instead, the elements relented, the match went ahead and Wright loomed into the nightmares of the home defenders.

All three of his goals were expertly taken, adding to the mystery of why Arsenal have scored only once in seven Premier League matches in which they have failed to record a win. His second was a special delight.

Wright received the ball 30 yards out after first the goalkeeper David Coles had dithered over a clearance and then Andy Wallace had been caught in possession by Alan Smith. Wright could have tried to run into the fissure that had opened in the back four before him, but he looked up, saw Coles too far advanced, and chipped delicately into the top right-hand corner.

With that the match was settled. Even a neurotic Arsenal, with declining form and increasing criticism bedevilling their efforts, could not blow it from there. Yet it had taken a full first half to settle the nerves made raw by ferocious tackling that is the prerogative of underdogs.

The first 10 minutes were predominantly Yeovil's, Mickey Spencer exchanging a one-two with Paul Wilson before blazing over, and three minutes later Wayne Dobbins being caught by surprise rather than by a visiting tackle when Paul Sanderson's cross was left to drift to the back of the area.

For the first quarter not much went the Premier Leaguers' way, but they snapped out of it with typical simplicity. Steve Rutter, the Yeovil player-manager, had feared his defence lacked height, and in the 25th minute Steve Bould rose above his green-and-white attendants to flick on Anders Limpar's left-wing corner. The ball did not fall ideally for Wright, yet he dragged it from slightly behind him, volleying in with his left foot.

The third goal was the harvest of repeated Arsenal attacks. Smith and Bould both brought out amazing saves from Coles, but in the 68th minute Wright, who had also been close with three other efforts, completed his hat-trick. Smith got a sufficient touch on the ball to unsettle the home rearguard, and Wright slipped behind them, hooking the ball past the advancing Coles. Yeovil, for whom the afternoon had promised a record-extending 17th FA Cup victory over League opponents, were threatened with a complete anti-climax. Arsenal were capable of scoring with every attack, and it came completely out of the blue when the home team collected a substantial consolation. Spencer, the non-Leaguer's top scorer and a source of problems for Arsenal all afternoon, wriggled past David Seaman in the 80th minute and would have scored but for a foul by Bould.

Some referees would have dismissed the Arsenal defender for stopping what appeared to be a certain goal. Mr Lloyd was lenient, however. Paul Batty duly converted from the penalty kick.

The goal afforded Yeovil a standing ovation at the end and a lap of honour. But it was all rather half-hearted. The glory, and the match ball stuffed up his shirt, had gone to Wright, and the romance of the Cup had left Huish Park and gone instead to Hartlepool.

Yeovil Town: D Coles; W Dobbins, J Sherwood, A Wallace, P Ferns (N Coates, 57 min), R Cooper, P Sanderson, P Batty, P Wilson (P Nevin, 75 min), M Spencer, S Harrower. Player-Manager: S Rutter.

Arsenal: D Seaman; L Dixon, N Winterburn, D Hillier, S Bould, A Adams, D O'Leary, I Wright, A Smith, P Merson, A Limpar. Subs not used: I Selley, K Campbell. Manager: G Graham.

Referee: J Lloyd (Wrexham).

Goals: Wright (0-1, 25 min); Wright (0-2, 45 min); Wright (0-3, 68 min); Batty (pen, 1-3, 80 min).

(Photograph omitted)

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