As Cup Finals go, the 2016 FA Cup Final was most certainly not a classic encounter, though it gave Manchester United one last opportunity for redemption in an otherwise poor season.
The final saw no place in the squad for United Dutch winger Memphis Depay, raising questions over his future, with reports suggesting that his attitude had a large part to play over his omission, though his form had hardly been impressive all season.
Marcus Rashford led the attack, supported by Anthony Martial and Juan Mata either side of him, Wayne Rooney playing behind them closer to Michael Carrick – both of whom were hoping to finally get their hands on that elusive FA Cup winners medal missing from their almost full collection. Marouane Fellaini was also recalled to the starting line up providing some aerial and physical threat.
Crystal Palace had started with their two pacey wingers former Red Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie, with Conor Wickham as their target man.
The first half was a rather tepid affair, and in keeping with the cautious approach that United have adopted all season.
In the second half, it was Fellaini who came closest to opening the scoring when his shot hit the frame of the goal, finally providing some goal scoring threat.
The game really came to life on 79mins when Palace substitute Jason Puncheon found himself on side, rifling a left footed shot past David De Gea, sending the Palace fans into raptures and manager Alan Pardew to perform a dance on the touchline worthy of something you would find on the dance floor at Flares night club.
Three minutes later, Wayne Rooney who had been so determined to win the Cup, battling up and down the pitch, produced a run of real vigour and purpose, and his cross was met by Fellaini who controlled the ball on his chest, allowing Mata to volley the equaliser for United, sending the game into extra time.
The first half of extra time saw United reduced to ten men as Chris Smalling hauled down Bolasie to receive his second yellow card of the game, as United faced an uphill task to complete the job.
Palace substitute Dwight Gayle could’ve snatched the victory for them, but De Gea done well to save with his legs.
Minutes later, Michael Carrick missed a great opportunity to bring United back level, planting his header wide of Wayne Hennessy’s goal, as penalties loomed large.
With ten minutes of extra time remaining, Antonio Valencia drilled in a low cross, which Damian Delaney could only partially block, the ball landed at United substitute Jesse Lingard’s feet, and his first time right foot shot arrowed past the hapless Hennessy in the Palace goal, worthy of winning the Cup for United. The relief and joy amongst the players, Louis van Gaal and his coaching staff and the fans of course, who have endured a difficult season, was evident.
For Lingard, it was the stuff of dreams as child, coming true on the hallowed turf of Wembley stadium, scoring the winning goal for his beloved Manchester United to clinch the FA Cup. A special mention must go to the now departed Paul McGuiness and Warren Joyce for overseeing the development of Lingard and Rashford who featured in the final, as well as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Timothy Fosu-Mensah who have also played their part in United’s cup success this season.
In my opinion, Wayne Rooney was man of the match, in particular how he dragged others around him believing that it wasn’t over when they fell behind. He was instrumental in helping to defend and attack in equal measure, and without question, along with Carrick, fully deserved to complete their medal haul.
There was however a sour taste left in my mouth as I stood there at Wembley Stadium watching the players and staff go up to collect their winners medals, the booing for Louis van Gaal by some United fans, surely it was the most unnecessary thing to do at the time, irrespective of what feelings they had towards him.
As we came out of Wembley Stadium, news was filtering through that van Gaal was gone, not a surprise of course, given that the rumour mill has been in overdrive for so long, but again, the timing of it, in particular so soon after lifting the FA Cup after 12 barren years, was wrong. All players, staff and fans should’ve been basking in the glory of the victory, and not taking away from it by discussing the manager’s departure.