'We got desperate at times'

Stan Hey hears from the victors and the vanquished on a momentous day: Everton 1 Man Utd. 0
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The Independent Online
NOT SO long ago the players' tunnel after the Cup final was all gap-toothed smiles and bottles of milk. These days the dentistry is on a par with Martin Amis, while the drinks are strictly "isotonic". But despite the reversed baseball caps, which are now obligatory wear after the game, the routines and the emotions remain the same.

You did not need words or fancy quotes - assuming anyone had had the temerity to ask for them - from Manchester United's squad as they left the field of broken dreams and squeezed past the parked team buses into the silent dressing room. There is no place for the losers which parallels the victors' lap of honour.

"You just have to leave them now," Manchester United's manager implored as he walked off the pitch kicking the dog-track sand from his shoes as the second leg of the double they won last year had disappeared inside six days. "I thought we deserved a draw, but having said that we defended terribly for the goal. Neville Southall has had a marvellous game and I think he's won them the Cup. I suppose in fairness we just got desperate at times," Alex Ferguson said as he left to console his team.

In contrast, as the Everton players bounced from their celebrations, a different sort of inarticulacy took over. The new cliches reflected those moments where events and emotions swamped the competitors' ability to get the words out. "It hasn't sunk in yet. I can't put it into words," Everton's tigerish midfielder, Joe Parkinson, admitted with a half smile that reflected a boyhood passion for yesterday's rivals.

Gary Ablett, who already has a Cup winners' medal with Liverpool, was understandably more used to the experience of making sense of a momentous occasion. "We battled like mad," he said. "Now we've got the FA Cup and Liverpool have got the Coca-Cola Cup it'll be a great night for the city. All those mixed red and blue families, like my own, will be out in a joint celebration."

The scorer of the winning goal, Paul Rideout, experienced the disappointment of having to come off in the second half through injury, but that did not deflect from his sense of achievement. "I have to give a lot of credit to Joe Royle for showing that he's got a lot of belief in me."

Royle himself, wearing a blue and white button-hole, was like a proud father at a wedding as he filed into the conference room with a can of beer in hand. Greeted by back-slaps, Royle paid tribute to his team which has shown such a remarkable improvement in form since he took over last autumn: "We only had eight points from 14 games when I arrived, so escaping relegation has been the real battle, but winning this is the icing."

Royle admitted that memories of Mark Hughes' late equaliser in the semi- final last year, when he was manager of Oldham, had come back to haunt him during the last frantic period of the game. "But now we can look forward to European competition next year and increased investment from the board in English players. But let's not talk about that today. I don't want anything taken away from the lads I've already got, because we can play even better."

From Alex Ferguson, the homily was understandably more muted. Dignified and generous in defeat - "When Neville Southall's in that form you need something special to beat him," he said of the goalkeeper who did most to thwart their second-half comeback - Ferguson nevertheless drew bitter encouragement from the solemn mood in his team's dressing room.

"They are finding it hard to take. It's the first season in five that we've come away without a trophy. So sometimes the players forget what defeat is like. They know now."