Photo: Manchester United celebrate their 12th hold on the FA Cup after defeating Crystal Palace 2-1 at Wembley on Saturday. United had to come from behind to secure the victory courtesy of a Jesse Lingard strike in extra time.
English football giants Manchester United has captured the FA Cup for the first time in over a decade thanks to their academy graduate Jesse Lingard. The second half substitute scored a peach of a goal that was fit to win any game, let alone the FA Cup final, to secure the Red Devils’ first trophy since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in the summer of 2013. Current boss Louis van Gaal has endured a miserable season failing to secure Champions League football for next season, however he has ended the campaign and quite possible his reign at Old Trafford on a high note.
At the start of the day, the Old Trafford club entered Wembley as firm favourites to lift the FA Cup with a lot of pressure on them to try and salvage what has been a horrible season by their own standards. Crystal Palace had other ideas though and took the lead through the local boy Jason Puncheon in the 78th, leaving United rattled and steering down the barrel of another disappointment this season. Juan Mata equalized just three minutes later through an amazing run from skipper Wayne Rooney which took the game into extra-time and set the platform for Lingard to settle the tie magnificently in the 110th minute, after he replaced Mata with 90 minutes on the clock.
The game started with United dominating proceedings, bossing possession as usual, but without troubling the Eagles’ defense too much. Michael Carrick and Rooney dictated the pace of the game, however they failed to provide any telling contributions early on. United came close on two occasions, first with Mata trying to curl the ball into the far corner after some good interchange with Antonio Valencia down the right only for Wayne Hennessy to make a very good smart safe diving to his right in the 22nd minute with a big right hand to deny him.
The best chance of the first half fell to French starlet Anthony Martial in the 33rd minute who was picked out by Marcus Rashford after a terrific burst down the right. Martial however saw his right-footed effort from about 8 yards blocked by Joel Ward with the goal at his mercy. Van Gaal and others on the bench must have been worried at this point that it was going to be one of those nights. Palace's only real threat came in the 35th minutes when Zaha robbed Daley Blind of possession but a recovering Rooney stopped the former United youngster from getting any chance to shoot at goal.
The second half started much like the first with Rooney and United dominating possession, however they were unlucky to hit the post twice in eight minutes. First it was Marouanne Fellaini in the 53rd minute whose thunderous strike from inside the penalty area rattled the frame after another wonderful flick from Rashford to get him in behind the Eagles defense. Martial's unlucky night continued after his header from a Valencia crossed hit the right upright with goalkeeper Hennessy beaten on 61 minutes.
With time running out and Palace needing some inspiration, Alan Pardew chose to substitute his midfield maestro Yohan Cabaye for local boy Puncheon in the 72nd minute and six minutes later it paid huge dividends. Puncheon’s initial corner was headed out by Fellaini, however Puncheon was played in by Ward and he unleashed a thunderbolt past David de Gea from close range to send the Palace fans in a frenzy. Their joy was however short lived as inspired United skipper Rooney rolled back the years to set up the equalizer in the 81st minute.
Receiving the ball from Carrick just inside the Palace half, the former Everton striker went on a wonderful run getting past four Palace players before crossing the ball from the byline to find the chest of Fellaini. The big-hair Belgian chested the ball down only for Mata to shoot from just outside the six yards box and into the back of the net. The game then went to extra time despite United’s push for a winner in 90 minutes, but then things seemed to take a turn for the worst for the Red Devils.
Having received a booking early in the first half, Chris Smalling was exposed by Yannick Bolasie on the break in the last minute of the first half of extra time. The former Fulham defender got too tight and was rolled by Bolasie at which point he held back the Congolese international and was given his marching order by Mark Clattenburg after his second yellow card.
With the clock approaching 110 minutes and Palace in the ascendancy pressuring the Red Devils, Valencia went on another of his marauding runs down the right and he skipped past Puncheon. The Ecuadorian then fired in a dangerous cross that was initially cleared by Damien Delaney but it fell to Lingard who unleashed a spectacular right-footed effort past Hennessy before he could even react. The ball was rifled into the top corner which sent Lingard, his teammates, the United bench and the United fans into euporia.
Palace threatened late on but three-time Player of the Year De Gea denied both Dwight Gayle and Wilfried Zaha as United secured their 12th FA Cup title and their first since 2004. Perhaps quite fittingly it was Lingard who secured van Gaal’s only piece of silverware in England, as he was given a start in the Dutch master tactician’s first game in charge of United in the 2014/2015 season at Old Trafford against Swansea City but he got injured in that game. For an academy graduate to secure United’s first trophy in the post Ferguson era is testimony to the traditions of the club and also to van Gaal’s trust in youth throughout his career.