Saturday, May 21, 2016

It Happened in England: Manchester United ends trophy drought with FA Cup win

Crystal Palace 0-0 Manchester United
There was one honor remaining in England as Crystal Palace and Manchester United met at Wembley Stadium in the FA Cup final. Palace had never been crowned champions of this competition and were only playing in their second ever Final. United, while having won the competition 11 times, have been without this trophy since 2004 and it is the only major club trophy that captain Wayne Rooney had uet to lift.

Manchester United enjoyed possession for the early portions of the match. Despite the control, their chances in the opening 20 minutes weren't exactly there. It was Palace with one of the better chances early on. Connor Wickham was sprinting to collect a long pass against Chris Smalling, who dragged the forward down. The free kick was given, but Wickham wasn't much deterred by the challenge and was able to keep going after the whistle and had what could have been the opening goal. Instead, a yellow went to Smalling and a fairly harmless free kick followed.

United started to pose more of a threat after 20 minute had gone by. Dangerous shots forced saves out of Wayne Hennessey. Corners found attacking heads for near misses. They weren't able to turn any of them into goals, however, and the first half ended scoreless.

The second half would bring the entire match to life. After a few United chances that included yet another post, Crystal Palace would snag the first goal in the 78th minute. Jason Puncheon, who was left out of the starting 11, collected a wide pass as he was barely onside, to knock the ball past David De Gea.

Manchester United had an excellent response four minutes later. Juan Mata found the equalizer after Wayne Rooney did the yeoman's work in setting up the chance. Mata blasted home Marouane Fellaini's knockdown off Rooney's pass and United were level. No other goals in the second half sent the match into extra time.

The first period of extra time spelled disaster for the Red Devils. Chris Smalling, who had been shown yellow for his challenge on Wickham earlier in the match, drew a second yellow for a hard foul and was sent off. It was only the fourth sending off in FA Cup Final history.

Crystal Palace would fail to capitalize on the manpower advantage and would only find despair after going up a man. They controlled the ball for the first five minutes of the second extra period, but things went sour for them against the run of play. Manchester United would overcome being a man down and find a goal in the 110th minute. It was Jesse Lingard's blast of a toe poke from the top of the penalty area providing the finish and the FA Cup winner.

This was Manchester United's first trophy since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, who watched this one from the stands. Will it be enough to save Louis Van Gaal's job at United? We shall wait and see, but we have seen FA Cups keep managers around despite suboptimal performance in the league before.

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