FA Cup final: Jesse Lingard seals victory for Manchester United - but will it be enough to save Louis van Gaal?

Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 2: Substitute Lingard struck during extra-time to seal a 12th FA Cup success for United

Mark Ogden
Wembley Stadium
Saturday 21 May 2016 20:19
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Jesse Lingard celebrates after scoring the winning goal for Manchester United in the FA Cup final
Jesse Lingard celebrates after scoring the winning goal for Manchester United in the FA Cup final

In the end, it was all so Louis van Gaal as Manchester United ended their 12-year wait for FA Cup glory with the flourish of Jesse Lingard’s right boot.

A stunning goal, scored by one of the young players given his chance by Van Gaal, secured United’s twelfth FA Cup and extended the Dutch manager’s winning track record in every country that he has coached.

But it was hard-fought, even dour at times, and success came after the extra-time dismissal of Chris Smalling for two yellow cards.

It was a typical Van Gaal victory – frustrating and unconvincing – and the big question now is whether it will be enough to save his job.

Yes, Van Gaal has returned silverware to Old Trafford for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, but United have missed out on the Champions League again this season and FA Cup success, as important as it is, is unlikely to be enough to save him from the sack.

With Van Gaal having revealed his starting line-up to United’s players on Wednesday, it was no surprise to see Marouane Fellaini return from suspension to start the game, with Juan Mata preferred ahead of the unfortunate Lingard.

FA Cup Final - Manchester United beat Crystal Palace in extra time

Fellaini’s selection hinted at Van Gaal’s determination to match Palace’s physical threat, but whenever the Belgian takes his place in United’s midfield, it often has the side-effect of a handbrake being applied on the team’s creativity.

It was another example of Van Gaal’s safety-first approach which so infuriates the United supporters – and players – and perhaps explained the subdued atmosphere throughout the red-and-white half of the stadium.

Marouane Felaini reacts to missing a chance at goal in the FA Cup final

While the Palace section buzzed with noise and anticipation, the United supporters were largely silent, as though they could not bear the prospect of cheering the team on to a victory which could safeguard Van Gaal’s future as manager.

Many will have been aware of the morning reports emanating from Spain that Jose Mourinho had agreed a three-year contract to succeed Van Gaal, but with no word from the club itself, the guessing game continued.

And for many United fans, the guessing was intertwined with hope – that their team would win the Cup and that this would be Van Gaal’s last game.

United undoubtedly controlled the first-half, but they missed a hatful of clear chances and were the beneficiaries of some poor decision-making by referee Mark Clattenburg.

That the opening period ended at 0-0 would have been no surprise to Van Gaal’s detractors. Most United games have been 0-0 at the interval this season, but only poor finishing led to that scoreline on this occasion.

With Marcus Rashford’s pace causing countless problems for the Palace defence, United created a host of opportunities.

Mata saw one goalbound effort blocked by Pape Souare, Fellaini sent a stooping header wide while Wayne Rooney’s deflected shot was saved by goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

But after surviving United’s early pressure, Palace began to hit back on the counter. Connor Wickham was hauled down by Smalling on one breakaway, with Yannick Bolasie’s header from the resultant free-kick being tipped over by David de Gea.

Both teams continued to trade blows, and Rashford continued to display the youthful energy which may yet earn him a place in Roy Hodgson’s 23-man Euro 2016 squad, but there was no sign of a breakthrough.

Palace believed they should have had one on 35 minutes, however, when Wilfried Zaha appeared to be tugged to the ground by Rooney.

Zaha, whose disastrous 18-month spell at United saw him play just four senior games, fell to the turf and grabbed the ball, only for Clattenburg to award a free-kick against him.

Palace manager Alan Pardew reacted furiously on the touchline and his frustration was not difficult to understand.

Marouane Fellaini has a header at goal during the FA Cup final

While Palace remonstrated with the officials, United played on and Rashford broke again, only for Mata’s shot from his cross to be blocked once again.

United were showing the greater quality through Rashford and Martial, but it was all so sporadic and this was by no means one of the great FA Cup Finals.

Palace were happy to contain and hit United on the break, while United simply appeared constrained by Van Gaal’s possession-based tactics.

There was no cut-and-thrust and the decision to name Lingard on the bench denied United the purpose that the young winger is often able to provide.

But chances continued to fall United’s way. Fellaini struck the post with a right-foot shot on 53 minutes before Martial’s header from Antonio Valencia’s cross hit the woodwork eight minutes later.

An injury to Rashford forced Van Gaal to withdraw the teenager on 72 minutes, however, and replace him with Ashley Young – the one-time winger, converted to full-back, now turned into a centre-forward.

It was a bemusing switch, but Pardew made a much less complicated – and adventurous – change at the same time by replacing Yohan Cabaye with Puncheon.

Jason Puncheon celebrates after giving Crystal Palace the lead int he FA Cup final

And the substitution paid dividends within six minutes when the midfielder broke the deadlock to put Palace ahead.

Puncheon sprung the United offside trap, helped by Mata falling asleep, and then beat De Gea at the near post.

Neither of United’s Spaniards covered themselves in glory, but Mata made amends three minutes later and De Gea joyous celebration at the other end highlighted the goalkeeper’s relief at his team-mate’s equalising goal.

Rooney made it, with the United captain refusing to give in as he burst through the Palace midfield before crossing to Fellaini. Fellaini chested the ball into Mata’s path and the former Chelsea player beat Hennessey with a left-foot shot from six yards.

Manchester United players celebrate after Juan Mata scores

After 81 minutes, the game had finally erupted into life, and it could have ended for Rooney five minutes later when he was fortunate to escape with just a booking for a wild challenge on Zaha.

Just as in 1990, when it took a replay and Lee Martin’s winner for United to separate the two teams, the game drifted into extra-time.

Palace possessed the greater cutting edge, with Bolasie forcing a crucial low save from De Gea on 102 minutes.

And Bolasie forced the dismissal of Smalling for a second booking three minutes later after the United defender had brought the winger down with a rugby tackle.

United responded well to the setback of going down to ten men, though. Lingard created a chance for Michael Carrick, only for the veteran to head wide from six yards, but Lingard was to have one more contribution to make and it was the decisive one.

When Valencia’s cross was half-cleared by Damien Delaney, the ball dropped to Lingard on the edge of the box and he returned it with a vicious right-foot volley. Hennessey had no chance and Lingard was United’s hero.

But it may all be too little, too late for the manager.

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