For Rio Ferdinand the wait goes on. One of the most decorated English defenders of all time, with so many championship medals he needs an extension at his house to store them, he has never won the FA Cup. It is the biggest gap in his CV, the hole on his mantelpiece. Now, after Chelsea won a Bank Holiday encounter which will live about as long in the memory as a broken Easter egg, this season will not be the one in which his ambition is fulfilled.
At the beginning of this FA Cup campaign, there was a suggestion from the United dressing room that his colleagues were determined "to do it for Rio". If that was the case, there was little evidence of their collective resolve here. United were flat, uninspired, happy to contain rather than control. The game's one moment of sparkle and invention came from their opponents. Demba Ba's winning goal was delightfully executed, a ruthless amalgam of skill and athleticism. And for the home fans, the very fact that Ferdinand was left baffled and flat-footed in the build-up only added to its deliciousness.
This was an FA Cup replay neither side wanted, played at a time that suited no one, an April Fool of a fixture with the weather providing the biggest joke of the day. Still, the Chelsea supporters warmed themselves up by expressing their ire for Ferdinand. The man whose brother was racially abused by the home captain has, by the logic of the football fan, become a Stamford Bridge hate figure.
From the first mention of his name over the public address system the favourite pantomime villain hereabouts was booed to the echo. Chants of "Ingerlund" rang from the Matthew Harding stand every time the international refusenik touched the ball. Plus there was a pointed reference to his preference for television duties in Doha over turning out for his country: "go back to Qatar, you know what you are," was the chant. Except they didn't say "go back."
Ferdinand, wearing a pair of boots in such a virulent shade of orange they were apparently styled on a steward's hi-viz jacket, did not appear overly perturbed by his reception. He would have been more worried by what was going on in front of him. With Chelsea beginning the game as if keen to surrender possession at every opportunity (even Juan Mata seemed to have misplaced his radar), Ferdinand's colleagues seemed equally reluctant to seize the initiative.
Alex Ferguson had selected a side to nullify Chelsea's creative heart, with Phil Jones bustling around Edin Hazard and Danny Welbeck dropping back to chase Mata. But when they were presented with the ball, there was little ambition to advance: even the sight of Ashley Cole clutching at the back of his thigh after succumbing to a hamstring pull did not encourage them to fulfil their supporters' demands that they "attack, attack, attack".
The United fans, gathering under a flag which identified them as the "Ralph Milne Ultras" were obliged to content themselves with mocking the substitute John Terry as he warmed up in front of them. For them, his miss in the Champions League final in Moscow remains a source of mirth. What would have made their day here was Terry coming off the bench for a penalty shoot-out.
It was a reasonable prediction: for the entire first half, a spot-kick lottery seemed the only way either side would break the deadlock.
But then, right at the start of the second half, Ba made his contribution. It was, as his manager Rafael Benitez insisted, the perfect application of the finisher's art. Five minutes later, it seemed as if one of Ferdinand's colleagues had matched the ruthlessness of that strike. But when Petr Cech somehow flicked Javier Hernandez's header over the bar, a save which the Mexican acknowledged with a grin of astonishment, Ferdinand's one and only hope of a reprieve disappeared over the horizon.
"Rio, Rio what's the score?" demanded the home fans as Phil Dowd brought the game to a conclusion. They need not ask.
Ferdinand will know only too well what the significance of this result is: another season passed without that missing bauble. Still, as consolations go, a sixth Premier League title would ease the blow. (© Daily Telegraph, London)