There’s a simple rule for evaluating cup finals, especially those that included no small amount of controversy. Wait until Monday. Wait until the hangover goes and the emotion subsides. The best appraisal is typically a sober second thought.
Like any good final—and this was a good one—the 90 minutes didn’t pass without a major flashpoint. In this case, it came just four minutes into the match when Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic hauled down Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor inside the penalty area. It was a clear foul, and a clear penalty. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted as much in his post-match comments, following his side’s 2-1 win at Wembley.
But while referee Phil Dowd didn’t hesitate to point to the spot, he refrained from booking Vidic. As the Serbia international was the last defender between Agbonlahor and goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, Dowd had every reason to display a straight red card. He didn’t, and his decision will haunt Aston Villa until the next time they line up at the national stadium.
It might not be a long wait. Villa will travel to Reading for an FA Cup quarterfinal on Sunday. Win it, and they’re back at Wembley. Given the young talent and growing depth in the squad, it might become a familiar trip for the club in the coming years.
None of that matters today, of course. Not this Monday. Sure, the anger has dissipated from a call that wasn’t made, from an injustice that has a club and its fans pining for a first piece of silverware in 14 years. It’s merely disappointment now.