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MOTD: Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester United
Long before Mark Clattenburg’s final whistle sent Manchester United fans into a frenzied euphoria at Wembley, social media was already rife with speculation that this was Louis van Gaal’s last match in charge of the Red Devils.
If indeed it shall be, it was a glorious ending to a tenure that has so often been lacking any sort of spark. The Dutchman returned United to their trophy-winning ways for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 with a dramatic comeback victory in the FA Cup final over Crystal Palace and, rather pointedly, paraded the title around Wembley.
Although United were on the brink of disaster after Jason Puncheon’s go-ahead goal in the seventy-eighth minute, on track for a second trophy-less season, Juan Mata restored the parity just three minutes later. Finally, Jesse Lingard’s thunderous strike completed the comeback deep into extra-time to seal United’s twelfth FA Cup title, equalling Arsenal’s record.
Van Gaal’s men dealt heartbreak to Alan Pardew’s Palace, who felt hard done by referee Clattenburg. And although Palace had a few big calls go the other way, they had nobody to blame but themselves.
For three short minutes, they had one hand on the FA Cup trophy as Puncheon blasted a low, far-post effort past Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea with twelve minutes to go, sending the underdogs roaring into the lead.
Puncheon tore off down the touchline as Palace fans erupted in jubilant celebration and Pardew danced on the touchline. It was the picturesque FA Cup miracle. And then it wasn’t.
Mata stroked home the simplest of equalizers to bring United level and send the Palace celebrations stuttering to a halt. The London-based club got too carried away right at the moment that they needed to be organized, lost their shape and allowed Wayne Rooney to waltz through the midfield. The quick break ended with Mata’s close-range goal, which took the wind right out of Palace’s sails.
In extra time, United lost Smalling to a second yellow card for dragging down Yannick Bolasie, but Lingard fired the most precise of volleys into the top corner to complete the comeback. The twenty-three-year-old pounced on Damien Delaney’s half-cleared on the edge of the penalty area stroked the ball into the top corner with the most sweetly struck half-volley. It was his first goal in eighteen games in all competitions and could not have been timed any better.