Byline: JEFF POWELL
TO HEAR them talking, you would have thought it was football's equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade.
Words like 'intimidating', ' physical', ' challenging', ' bullying', ' menacing' and even 'massacre' were being bandied about after Manchester United versus Arsenal.
Who do they think they are kidding?
'Handbags' would have been more appropriate, or ' playacting'. Better still, 'diving'.
At first glance it looked as if we were in for a rare treat, a good oldfashioned FA Cup-tie hewn from the valiant history of this most ancient competition.
No such luck.
The closer you looked, it was all wind and hiss.
A few extravagant lunges through thin air, some theatrical collapses to the ground, a lot of pushing and shoving... but hardly a tackle worth the name.
If not exactly a bunch of fairies, this lot should have run into Tommy Smith, Norman Hunter, Dave Mackay, Paddy Crerand, Chopper Harris and Messrs Giles, Gerson and Gentile in their prime.
Only one player got hurt. But David Beckham injured himself by chasing after a couple of Arsenal players like an irate schoolboy.
Oh yes, a lot of them went down as if they had been shot. Not least Patrick Vieira for the free-kick which yielded the decisive first goal. But for the most part it was overreaction to the mildest provocation, especially the crowding round the referee.
They made a melee out of a molehill.
AUDLEY HARRISON, Britain's Olympic gold medal-winning boxer and late-starting contender for the world heavyweight title held by Lennox Lewis, is to be sponsored by Cadbury.
So much for the cynics who said that if he were made of chocolate he would eat himself.
Part of the problem is that they are no longer allowed to get stuck in like they used to. Mistime one heavy tackle and you're off.
This man's game is being neutered by political correctness.
Once Roy Keane had been booked, even he played as if he had one set of studs tied behind his back.
How United missed Phil Neville.
Maligned though this brother has been through much of his career, it was Neville's authentic and abrasive tackling which had subdued Arsenal's midfield in the Premiership match here in December, which arrested temporarily the shift of power in English football from Old Trafford to Highbury.
While Neville sat watching from the bench on Saturday, Vieira, Pires, Parlour and Edu took control - Edu, above all.
The Brazilian's free-kick for that first goal took a huge deflection but his focused hold over the proceedings never wavered by so much as a fraction.
While the others sweated and strained, Edu ran the game.
Thus Arsenal were much the superior team. Still, United might have won. Such is the contrary nature of the game.
Arsenal played the football, passing their way out of pressure with wit and dexterity. United forced the better chances.
As well as that miss of the millennium, Ryan Giggs put a gaping volley out for a throw instead of PS: Has anyone seen Duncan Fletcher?
Please report, on a postcard, any sightings of …