Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 2 (AET): On a day when the moment of triumph was at least partially overshadowed by the anticipation of a change in manager in the days ahead, it was perhaps no surprise that Wayne Rooney placed his own asterisk against Manchester United’s success.
For Rooney, Saturday marked the day when he finally acquired the missing medal in his club collection having twice suffered the disappointment of being forced to watch opponents celebrate with the trophy.
Determined not to endure that experience again, the United captain did more than any of his team-mates to ensure the wait for the first trophy of the post-Alex Ferguson era would end.
It was a record-equalling 12th success in a competition that has been less kind to United since the trophy was last returned to the club in 2004. For nine of those intervening years, the absence was barely felt as Ferguson led the club to Premier League and Champions League titles.
Since the Scot stepped away, however, United’s decline has been such that the significance of simply winning silverware was enough to prompt feelings of relief as well as elation although nobody, Rooney included, was ready to declare the spluttering Old Trafford trophy machine was about to regain momentum.
However much champagne was sprayed around the victors’ dressing room after the match, there was an underlying sense of under-achievement with the failure to finish in the top four and secure a place in next season’s Champions League, while the manner of victory helped illustrate why, the FA Cup aside, Louis Van Gaal’s side have fallen short of their targets.
“I think we want to finish at least in a Champions League place and I said after the last game of the season we are disappointed where we finished,” said Rooney.
“We have spoken about it a lot and we just have to enjoy winning the cup and then in terms of club football look to next season. It’s hard to say whether it is better to win a trophy or finish fourth - you want both ideally. We didn’t finish fourth which wasn’t ideal for us all but we have won the FA Cup.”
The failure to do both seems certain to cost Van Gaal his job to Jose Mourinho but the Dutchman will at least leave behind a squad that has provided evidence they are acquiring a winning mentality having broken their first post-Ferguson barren spell.
“I feel it’s an important moment for the football club,” said Rooney. “Since Sir Alex left we haven’t won a trophy and we have a fairly new squad who haven’t really won much together, so it could be an important moment for us.”
Rooney’s importance to this side was clear, even if the decisive winning goal was finished in outstanding fashion by Jesse Lingard, one of the clutch of youngsters who have provided Van Gaal’s with his brightest moments.
The England captain, alongside Michael Carrick, was fulcrum of almost all of United’s play, showcasing an outstanding range of passing, tracking back with the desire and energy of a youngster and creating Juan Mata’s equaliser with a driving run and cross. That came three minutes after Jason Puncheon’s 78th minute strike had put Crystal Palace ahead and appeared to suck the belief from Alan Pardew’s side.
Extra time brought a second yellow card for Chris Smalling after the United centre-back brought down Yannick Bolasie but even with a man less, Van Gaal’s side always looked more likely to find a winning goal, eventually provided by Lingard’s volley nine minutes from time.
For Palace there was frustration and, possibly regret. Pardew had set his side up to absorb early United pressure with Puncheon the man to make way in favour of a more robust looking midfield. Eventually introduced, Puncheon’s celebration was an animated version of ‘I told you so’, prompting Damien Delaney to attempt to re-focus his team-mate before the restart.
“Punch is an emotional guy. I tried to settle him down and it didn’t work, we conceded two minutes later, but I didn’t want people getting too excited or too ahead of themselves,” said the Palace centre-back.
“It was within our grasp and there was a danger we might snatch at it and then you end up losing. Even in extra time, when Smalling went off I thought we could do it but then Lingard popped up.
“It’s disappointing. Everyone is upset, a lot of the younger players were hanging their hat on this. But it’s not the be all and end all. Being 10 minutes away from an FA Cup winners medal is difficult to take but I’m old enough and experienced enough to know it’s a game of football and it wasn’t to be.”
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1):
Hennessey 6; Ward 6, Dann 6 (Mariappa 90, 6) Delaney 7, Souare 6; Jedinak 7, McArthur 6; Zaha 5, Cabaye 5 (Puncheon 72, 7), Bolasie 6; Wickham 7 (Gayle 85 6)
Subs not used:
Speroni, Adebayor, Sako, Kelly.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-3-3):
De Gea 6; Valencia 7, Smalling 4, Blind 6, Rojo 5 (Darmian 66 5); Fellaini 6, Carrick 8,Rooney 9; Mata 7 (Lingard 89, 8), Rashford 7 (Young 72, 6), Martial 6.
Subs not used:
Romero, Jones, Herrera, Schneiderlin.
Mark Clattenburg 6
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