When all you have is hope, it needs to spring eternal. That's why, in the wake of Saturday's defeat, Southampton's disappointment gave way to pride in their performance. And why, after acknowledging Arsenal's superiority, the emphasis was on faith in the future, not regret about what was gone.
"We want to come back next season and win the bloody thing," Chris Marsden, the captain for the Saints' first FA Cup final appearance since 1976, said. "I think everyone at the club has realised what they have been missing out on for the past 27 years and we do not want to wait that long to do it again."
Marsden said his feelings had been strengthened by the commitment of the supporters. He said: "I'm not ashamed to say my eyes watered on the lap of honour. It was very emotional walking round the pitch, seeing family and friends in the crowd. The fans were superb, even after the final whistle. That was something else. At least this has given everyone a taste and we definitely want to come back next year. We have set our standards now."
Brett Ormerod, who saw his 83rd minute shot – Southampton's best chance of the game – saved by David Seaman, admitted the better side won. "We gave it our all," he said. "But when you play against teams like Arsenal, you have to play like Arsenal. You also need a bit of luck, the rub of the green and we didn't get it.
"But it just shows the character of our team and how far we have come this season – eighth in the Premiership, an FA Cup final and we're in Europe. If you'd offered me that at the beginning of it I would have bitten your arm off, it has been a tremendous season.
"We have got a good squad and we work hard for each other, so who knows what we can achieve next season. The majority of our squad are in their early to mid-20s so there are exciting times ahead for Southampton."
His sentiments were echoed by James Beattie. "To get to the FA Cup final and lose is totally gutting," the England striker said. "But we're going into Europe and there will be big games there. The lads have drawn experience from this cup run which is what the gaffer wanted."
Gordon Strachan confirmed it was almost what he wanted. "You can't enjoy the day if you get beat but you can be proud," the manager said. "We had huge hearts and battled for every ball. We competed, there are no regrets. I am proud of what we did today even if at times we were outplayed. It will be easier to win in the future because we have tasted defeat on the big occasion. When we get there again the players will say 'I don't want that taste again'."
Strachan made a point of praising Arsenal's Thierry Henry, who he said had left his central defenders, Claus Lundekvam and Michael Svensson, "like two dead bodies" in the post-match dressing room. "They've played today against the world's best striker and I think it has aged each of them four years."
Lundekvam said the Frenchman is "probably the best player in the world at the moment. He's got fantastic pace and as a defender that is probably the thing you fear the most." He summed up the mood by adding: "We lost in the best way, if such a thing is possible, although we still felt we could have done better."
There's always next time. They hope.Reuse content