Tireless Marsden runs his team all the way to Cardiff

In the semi-final of the journeyman, it was the ultimate journeyman who fashioned a decisive moment. Chris Marsden, Southampton's unexpected captain this season, provided the ballast before half-time when his team-mates were struggling.

Collecting Anders Svensson's reverse ball, he attacked the penalty area before picking out Brett Ormerod. It was a simple training-ground move – the kind Gordon Strachan drills into his players. Get the ball wide, get the ball in, and no one has listened more attentively than Marsden this season.

It was also the third successive FA Cup tie in which an intervention by the 34-year-old midfielder had been pivotal. A goalscorer against his former club Wolverhampton Wanderers and the creator of two in the previous round against Norwich City, Marsden has done more than anyone to earn Southampton their first Cup final for 27 years.

A place in Europe and Cup glory is a fitting reward in the twilight of a career that has also taken in stints at Sheffield United, Huddersfield Town, Notts County, Stockport County and Birmingham City. The nearest he has come to such rewards before was a semi-final of the Worthington Cup.

Marsden stands out on the field, for both his appearance and his gait. Shaven-headed, not through fashion, he uses his left foot almost exclusively and his pace, if he ever had any, has long since gone. He shuffles around in a remarkably upright manner, with a low carriage.

As such he is the antithesis of the modern footballer but, having joined Southampton in 1999, signed by his former manager at Stockport, Dave Jones, his influence has grown. With the club captain Jason Dodd out of the side, it is Marsden to whom Strachan has turned to lead by the kind of hard-working, uncomplicated example he so craves. Captaincy suits him, although yesterday Southampton appeared burdened by being favourites. Watford were their fourth opponents from the First Division in this Cup run and proved to be dogged, with more big-game experience in Marcus Gayle, Neal Ardley and Neil Cox than the Saints could muster.

Unsurprisingly, it was Marsden who was the calming influence. He was involved, almost unnoticed, in the second goal. Closing down in midfield, he helped force the mistake which released Ormerod, whose cross was turned in. When Watford pulled a goal back, it was Marsden who was re-organising and trying to bring some order.

It was a journeyman performance by Southampton, but few would deny Marsden his chance. In driving his team-mates to the final, Marsden provided yet another Cup story. His brother, Damien, is a serviceman in the Gulf involved in the Iraq conflict and the two had spoken yesterday morning. "He rang me," Marsden said. "Hopefully he will be smiling and have a few beers now – if he is allowed."

Now for the final. "If we go there and give it a good shot, you never know what can happen," said Marsden, as if capturing his whole career.

Afterwards, however, it was Ormerod – formerly of Accrington Stanley and Blackpool himself – who provided the best soundbite. "The FA Cup is a competition for the underdog," he said. And the underdog, in Marsden, will now have his day.

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