Palace 1-2 Man Utd
Crystal Palace’s wait for a first major trophy goes on after a gut-wrenching defeat against Manchester United in the FA Cup final. After weathering large periods of United pressure, Jason Puncheon climbed off the bench to volley Palace into a 78th minute lead and leave Palace fans dreaming glory. Back in 1990, the South London Club was 7 minutes from victory when Mark Hughes levelled – 26 years later there was 9 minutes remaining when Juan Mata’s shot squirmed through Joel Ward and into the back of the net.
Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial had both struck the woodwork and Wayne Hennessey had to be at his best to deny Juan Mata before Puncheon opened the scoring, as Louis Van Gaal’s men racked up 24 shots on goal. However, Hennessey's save from Mata was the only shot that had found the target before United scored.
Palace threatened on the break when United over committed and better refereeing could have seen the Eagles as many as three goals ahead at half time. Connor Wickham and Chris Smalling battled for a ball down the left and Smalling’s tug on Wickham’s shirt saw them both fall to the ground. The Palace striker was immediately back on his feet, however, and racing into the penalty area only for Mark Clattenburg to blow his whistle for a foul. Daley Blind didn’t stop playing and Wickham easily evaded his challenge. David de Gea had stopped by this point but Wickham had the option of shooting from six yards or squaring to an unmarked Zaha at the back post for a tap in. The referee was caned for his decision not to play advantage and the look on the official’s face, who will take charge of next weekend’s Champions League final, told you that he knew he had made one of the all-time shocking FA Cup final decisions.
It got worse for Clattenburg. Wayne Rooney clumsily flew in on Zaha in the penalty area and the winger hit the deck. Clattenburg pointed to the ball suggesting that Rooney took it – replays showed that he was nowhere near it.
Now for a third time. This time it was Joel Ward breaking away from a foul Marcus Rojo. The Palace full back had the entire United half free in front of him with a three on two opportunity for Palace, but again Clattenburg sounded his whistle and halted play. United sought to take advantage of their incredible fortune, but could not find a way through the Palace back line.
"The Palace fans behind goal, dubbed the best fans Wembley had seen in years, went crazy as Puncheon was bought close to tears again in celebration."
As they often do, Palace threatened from set pieces and it was from a recycled corner that the opener eventually came. Puncheon’s corner was headed clear by Fellaini, but only as far as Joel Ward. His cross reached the far post where Puncheon controlled the ball expertly and smashed home an unstoppable volley from a tight angle. The Palace fans behind goal, dubbed the best fans Wembley had seen in years, went crazy as Puncheon was bought close to tears again in celebration. Unfortunately, the joy lasted just 3 minutes
When the time comes for the Palace staff to look back on the equaliser, they will rue the several chances that were there to stop it from occurring. Wayne Rooney picked the ball up half way in the Palace half and set off on a run. James McArthur slipped, Puncheon’s half tackle wasn’t strong enough and Mile Jedinak was unable to get close enough to put in a tackle. Damien Delaney took over and did well to push the England leading goal scorer wide and it looked like he and Pape Souare had the situation under control. Instead, Rooney managed to stand the ball up to the far post and Fellaini took advantage of losing Jedinak for one of the few times in the game. His chest down was met by Mata and Ward’s attempted block saw the ball bounce up and over Hennessey trialling foot.
"It was the worst thing that could have happened for Palace."
The game went to extra time and both team created half chances, notably Bolasie who saw his volley from range saved by de Gea, but on the stroke of half time in extra time, the game changed as Chris Smalling saw red. The England defender got far too tight on Yannick Bolasie and the winger turned him in a flash. Smalling made the ludicrous decision to rugby tackle his man when already on a yellow card and his cup final was over with a flourish of Clattenburg’s red card. It was the worst thing that could have happened for Palace – who have failed to win every game in which an opposition player had been sent off this season.
At the start of the second half Palace had a golden chance to win the game. Zaha did brilliantly on the run before slotting Gayle through on goal. With just de Gea to beat, Gayle’s early shot was too close to the Spanish stopper. Pardew either decided to switch to 4-4-2, putting Bolasie up top with substitute Gayle, or Bolasie, who had been suffering from cramp, was merely too tired to get back - and with that the game was lost.
Michael Carrick fired a warning shot as he headed narrowly wide before the sucker punch was landed. Valencia picked the ball up on the half way line and had the freedom of the right flank as Puncheon was too central to cut off his run. He eventually got close enough as Valencia approached the edge of the area and this had bought enough time for United players to give him some support. Puncheon was unlucky as his tackle bounced back off Valencia’s shin and fall in the United defender’s favour. His cross was cut out by Delaney but the ball dropped on the edge of the penalty area where Jesse Lingard was on hand to crash home a stunning volley.
Jedinak and Zaha both had efforts from range as they searched for an equaliser, but United were professional in seeing out the game to break South London hearts.
Since returning to the Premier League, we have only won one match that Clattenburg has officiated. When he was announced as referee, I think many of us knew deep down that he was going to screw us over again – and he did just that.
With not playing advantage twice and not awarding a penalty for Zaha, Clattenburg took his tally of goals that he has cost Palace, either for or against, up to as many as ELEVEN. Before it had only cost us Premier League points – now he has cost us the FA Cup.
Of course we will be told to ignore his ‘laugh and a joke’ with Alex Ferguson before the match. Why wouldn’t he have a chat with the former Manchester United manager, who for some reason, had access to the officials? And, of course, there is no favouritism from the officials. The Smalling sending off, despite being impossible to ignore, will be pointed to as proof of that. I hate that I have to be bitter but for him it is just, yet another, bad day at the office – for us it is another generation of hurt.
Jason Puncheon and those three minutes
Many people thought that an unsung hero would emerge in the final, but it was one of the usual suspects that almost bought a first trophy to SE25.
I was a little shocked to see him on the bench, but I think that Alan Pardew got the side bang on. He had to stuff the midfield to deal with the threats that United possess there and it would have been suicide not to start with Mile Jedinak to compete with Fellaini in the air. With Cabaye, Jedinak and McArthur there to break up play and set us away on the counter, we created enough to win the game on another day.
On 72 minutes, Pardew made a huge call and took off Yohan Cabaye and replaced him with Jason Puncheon. Within minutes, Punch had scored and sent a very strong message towards the Palace bench in his celebration, pointing at Pardew and yelling "you fucking wanker." Of course, Pardew will say that he was right as the impact that he had on the match was almost a winning one.
As painful as it is to say, however, Puncheon’s failure to make tackles in the build up to both goals ended up costing us dearly – justifying Pardew’s decision to leave him out with game plan we employed.
Until we, hopefully, win a trophy I will never forget those moments after the goal. Surrounded by the people that I love we celebrated that goal like none other in my Palace supporting career. I genuinely thought that the wait was over. For three minutes, I allowed myself to forget what years of experience have taught me – wait until the fat lady is singing. I jumped around, I hugged family, friends and strangers and I basked in the glory of what could have been the pinnacle of our 111 year history.
Instead, the wait goes on and another story is added to the ever growing ‘nearly’ list of Crystal Palace Football Club.
Steve Parish have told us that we need to shed our inferiority complex and believe that we belong where we are. I want to buy into that, but here I am left with talking about how proud I am of our fans. The atmosphere was best summed up by Bob Mortimer in a tweet:
It was passionate fans who genuinely care about their Club and the trophy that it was trying to win vs a Club full of plastics that is riddled with a sense of entitlement that years of success has bought them.
Everything from the display to 30,000 regularly singing in unison was perfect. In comparison, United fans in their thousands walking down Wembley Way, boasting about their victory to Palace fans, before their team had even lifted the trophy was a total embarrassment.
As I sat out back on the ground, devastated after the final whistle a fan came over to me and said: “Chin up mate, we have what they can never have. We have us.”
It’s not a trophy – but something far more meaningful.
Until next season – come on you Palace!