Our Cup Runneth Over

Last updated : 12 May 2003 By Bernard Azulay

Within a week of the final curtain coming down on this Championship challenge, both have popped up with hat-tricks. However I believe few will argue that although Thierry Henry somehow failed to get on the scoresheet against Southampton and only hit the net once at the Stadium of Light, he was once again the undoubted star of our ten goals in two games encore. Crowds at Highbury and on Wearside were treated to an Henry masterclass.

I wonder whether the Frenchman felt he had something to prove to all those who have publicly doubted his Player of the Year credentials. It is testament to having first learnt his trade out on the wing that not only has he scored 24 Premiership goals, but he has also teed up 20 more for his team mates. Without the greedy instincts of other strikers Henry has achieved a remarkable record number of assists. On Sunday however I found myself screaming at him to be a little more selfish because amongst my reasons for schlepping all the way to Sunderland was the hope that Henry might be rewarded with the small consolation of the Golden Boot.

Obviously this wasn't at the front of Titi's mind as he fed Freddie for each of his three goals. It was therefore more than a little galling to hear the news on the radio that Van Diver had gone down to earn the penalty that ensured he pipped Henry to this prize. The more we scored on Sunday, the louder the Sunderland fans sang. I can't say that I will miss one less trip to the North-East next season but while they may have a Nationwide team, the supporters and the stadium are certainly worthy of Premiership status. And although there were a few empty seats at our end, I was pleasantly surprised by the heartwarming turnout of a couple of thousand hardcore Gooners (perhaps interspersed with the odd glory-hunter who hadn't been able to flog their match and train tickets?).

I have to admit that if I hadn't handed out so much stick to my Opart-time' pals for stopping at home, I might have been tempted myself. Especially when I discovered the eighty quid cost of travelling on the train, away from an afternoon with my feet up in front of the TV coverage of the three exciting matches where matters were still undecided. Still with my trusty terrace tranny and a stock of spare batteries I wasn't going to miss a goal at any of the other games. If the radio was a distraction from events on the pitch for us, I couldn't imagine what a harrowing afternoon my West Ham pals were enduring.

It wasn't just for their sake that I wanted West Ham to stay up. As a travelling supporter one can't help but put a geographical slant on relegation and promotion matters. Moreover it would be most frustrating if a "fire sale" should be the upshot at Upton Park, at a time when the sorry state of the Arsenal's finances might mean we are unable to take advantage. Defoe, Cole and Carrick might be the obvious targets but personally I covet their right-back Glen Johnson who could come without the baggage of the other over hyped young Hammers. That Defoe was the first to stick his iron in the fire, slapping their supporters in the face with his transfer request on Monday morning, kind of puts our problems into perspective.

The Arsenal's second place might seem a poor reward for a season which promised so much but we still have some silverware to play for on Saturday and we've been privileged to witness some of the most spectacular football seen anywhere on this planet. Meanwhile the poor Hammers are left contemplating the Nationwide, instead of qualification for Europe, which might have been rightly anticipated as the natural progression from the seventh place earned by Roeder's team last term.

Needless to say I will be nevertheless devastated if we should end up empty-handed, with nothing to show for all our efforts. I'm not nearly so confident about the FA Cup as all those commentators who think Southampton haven't a ghost of a chance against a Gunners side that finally appears to be finding some form. You can be sure that Gordon Strachan's team will bear little resemblance to the one that rolled over last Wednesday and while we will be going to Cardiff brim full of confidence, we must guard against any complacency settling in as a result of two performances against teams with nothing to play for.

If we can afford to be a little blasé about our third final in three years, it's been 27 years since Southampton fans had something similar to celebrate. During the week I heard a rant from a Saints fan who'd raised 1200 quid to buy two tickets from a tout (great to hear of a student loan finally being put to good use!) so I am entitled to feel a little smug about our two £25 pound tickets, two rows behind the goal. Yet I can fully appreciate Southampton fans spending mad money for what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. It won't be surprising if their team are similarly inspired, compared to a squad of players who have performed on the big stage so regularly. We can only hope that the cream will rise to the top, because if it comes down to sweat alone, we might be at a serious disadvantage?

Myself I've decided to hedge my bets. We're heading down to Port Talbot for the weekend. With the sucker punches we've suffered this season, it won't be a surprise but if the worst does come to the worst, at least we won't left crawling in the traffic heading East out of Cardiff, surrounded by crowing Saints fans. Whether we are left celebrating our cup success, or licking our wounds (again!), we will be grateful for an opportunity to unburden ourselves on our beachside break in Wales.