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Lingard Lords It Over Palace

2016 FA Cup Final: Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 2

Local lad Lingard became the hero as he won the FA cup in extra time for ten-man United with a blistering strike that lit up an otherwise ordinary final.

Manchester United have enjoyed a special relationship with the oldest club cup competition down the years that goes back to their first win back in 1909. Since then they have lifted the trophy eleven times but hadn’t tasted success since 2004.

So, here was an ideal opportunity at the end of a poor league season to equal Arsenal’s record by beating Crystal Palace and lift their first piece of silverware in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Louis van Gaal and his players made a point of saying that this one was for the long-suffering fans who have had to endure yet another campaign in which United have failed to deliver on the promises of a squad that unfortunately didn’t materialise.

In what many believe, and the majority hope will be van Gaal’s last match as the manager he chose a starting XI that didn’t hold any surprises: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Mata, Martial and Rashford.

Rojo came back into the side at left-back and Carrick kept his place in midfield in what could be his swansong for United. Fellaini was preferred to Herrera to partner Carrick along with Rooney.

There are always players who will be left disappointed in not starting a match of such importance among those must have been Lingard who was left on the bench in favour of Mata.

However, the one United player who must have felt devastated to be left out of the squad all together had to be Memphis who has endured a season in which his confidence seemed to have taken a battering and his omission won’t help him in any way.

Palace got the final underway amid a wonderful atmosphere provided by both sets of fans.

Right from the off it became abundantly clear that Crystal Palace’s tactics involved getting all the players behind the ball and use their pace on the counter-attack.

United played the majority of the first half around the edge of the opposition area but failed to take advantage of the chances that came up. Too many times they attempted to play through the middle with Rooney without the use of the wings.

Palace were happy enough to stand off Rooney and limit his passing options. The frustrations of the United players were clear for all to see as they were punished by the referee with three bookings for Smalling, Rojo and Mata.

Referee Mark Clattenburg didn’t exactly endear himself to the Palace fans as not once but twice he didn’t allow the advantage to be played following fouls by United. On the first occasion, they actually had the ball in the net but the play was called back and the second would have seen Ward through on goal but again Clattenburg blew his whistle much to the despair of an animated Palace manager Pardew on the touchline.

The first half ended, not for the first time in United’s season, goaless, as they laboured in a pedestrian fashion at times. The match needed an injection of pace and imagination if goals were to come.

The United defence didn’t really have a lot to do as most of the play was up at the other end. There were flashes of brilliance from Rashford and Martial who both spent the half looking for a way through the tight Palace defence. Carrick, in what was probably his last match, gave the ball away far too easily in dangerous positions and his lack of pace showed against the younger Palace players.

Van Gaal made no changes at the start of the second half. The match didn’t take long to spring into life as first Fellaini crashed an effort against the bar after great approach play from Rashford. Then Martial saw his headed effort come back off the post. It was looking as if it could be one of those days.

Rojo’s final came to an end on the hour mark when he was caught by a late lunge from Delaney that on closer inspection warranted more than the yellow he received. The Argentinian did try to carry on but was replaced by Darmian at left back.

This was followed by the departure of youngster Rashford after a defender had stamped on his knee. The way Palace were aggressively going into tackles was reminiscent of the 1990 replay.

Ashley young replaced Rashford and immediately slotted in at centre forward with Martial on the left. A positional tactic that not for the first time baffled the fans.

All of Palace’s plans came to fruition in the 78th minute when they took the lead through substitute Puncheon who managed to beat De Gea from the tightest of angles. Not a mean feat. 1-0 to the Eagles and boy did their fans celebrate.

Ten minutes to go in the final and fans wondered how United would react. The answer came so quickly, within two minutes to be exact.

United levelled when Rooney decided the only way past the tight Palace defence was to run at them with the ball which he did with fantastic effect. Eventually, he sent over a cross which Fellaini chested down into the path of Mata who dispatched a shot that found the net after a slight deflection.

The game had come to life and with extra time looming van Gaal introduced Lingard for scorer Mata.

The Red Devils looked to have the upper hand at the start of the first period of extra time as the Palace players looked shattered both physically and mentally. Only former red Zaha continued to be a thorn in United’s defence and it took heroic defending from Blind to prevent a goal.

Then as is always the case with United they made it harder for themselves when Smalling was sent off for a second yellow card after he had brought down Bolasie. To be honest, it was a harsh booking for Smalling but he was deceived by the forward’s pace.

Down to ten men, it would take a huge amount of effort for United to win the match before being resigned to penalties.

United’s player of the season came to the rescue in the second period as De Gea managed to get a boot to deny an effort by Gayle.

Then a chance for Carrick to write his name in United history as he found himself unmarked in the Palace area only to send his header wide of the goal when it looked certain he would become the match hero.

That honour fell to the feet of Jesse Lingard who netted the winner in the 110th minute. A cross from the right from the ever busy Valencia was only half cleared and there was Lingard lurking in the box to smack home a shot that was so sublime in its execution it will one of those Wembley goals that will be drooled over with every viewing.

There was still time for De Gea to thwart Zaha as he dived bravely at the wingers feet and received a knock on his head for his troubles.

When the final whistle blew it prompted jubilant scenes from the players and the bench as the reality sank in that they had actually won the cup after being reduced to ten-men and came from behind to fully deserve their victory. Even Louis van Gaal leapt from the bench jumping with joy into the arms of his assistant Ryan Giggs.

In all reality, it wasn’t the greatest of finals but a lot of that was down to the way Palace had set out their stall. United were left frustrated many times but to their credit, they never gave up even when they had fallen behind and a player short.

Performances from the likes of Blind, Mata, Fellaini and Martial kept the dream alive. However, Rooney was the man once again who was at the centre of all United’s moves and even though he was guilty at times of wasteful passes it was his inspirational run that provided the equaliser. As regards the man of the match then that would have to go to Valencia who completed his duties in defence and attack to great effect.

A last special mention has to go to the hero of the day Jesse Lingard. How refreshing it is in this modern game of football and its millions that it was a local lad from Warrington who came up through the ranks at United to score the goal that will be forever remembered and celebrated by United fans all over the world.

With the cup victory United have finally ended their drought with the first major trophy in three years. The big question has to be whether it is enough to save van Gaal’s tenuous position as manager? No sooner had the final whistle blown the media vultures circled the Dutchman looking for answers. At least let the man celebrate the victory before writing his obituary. There will be plenty of time for that.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Rooney Runs The Show

Manchester United 3 Bournemouth 1

The final day of the season is not usually known for its drama off the pitch, but on it. That was exactly the case at Old Trafford on Sunday following the bomb scare that caused the stadium to be cleared and the match to be rescheduled.

After the suspect package had been discovered the security staff have to be praised for the calm way they conducted the evacuation of 75,000 people in such an orderly fashion.

However, questions have to be raised at the club in regards to the way a suspect package had been left unnoticed for four days. And the security company that left it there have to be dragged over the coals for their ineptitude.

The last league game of the season eventually saw United welcome Bournemouth to Old Trafford after the understandable postponement of the match on Sunday.

This rescheduled match meant two things. Firstly,  United knew that barring a victory of 19 plus goals, there would be no Champions League football next season. Secondly, it would interrupt preparations for the upcoming FA Cup final against Crystal Palace this weekend.

How would these factors effect van Gaal’s team selection from the one he chose for the original game? The answer was it didn’t as he picked the exact same eleven: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick, Rooney, Lingard, Mata, Martial and Rashford. In came the recalled trio of Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick and Lingard at the expense of Rojo, injured in training, Schneiderlin, ill and Herrera who started on the bench.

In all honesty, there was very little to say about the first half as it had been pretty much unremarkable until Rooney gave the fans something to cheer as he netted his 100th Premier League goal at Old Trafford in the 43rd minute.

The captain had the easiest of finishes as he buried the ball into the back of the net after Martial and Mata had played a neat one-two with each other and the former produced a cross that Rashford stepped over which left Rooney able to pounce. One down, only 18 to go.

Before the opener the closest the sides came to raising the pulse of the fans was when Carrick almost got a touch to a Rooney delivery from a free kick and at the other end, Pugh had an effort blocked by Valencia. The match had that feeling of a pre-season friendly written all over it.

At least at the start of the second half, both sides had decided to make a go of it with Rooney eyeing up a shot that was blocked and Mata who went to ground in the penalty area after being caught from behind but referee Jon Moss waved play on.

The visitors had their moments when Pugh and Wilson tried their luck from the edge of the area but would need to do better to beat De Gea.

Carrick was the next player to jolt the fans into life as he blasted a swerving, long-distance drive against the crossbar.

At the centre of United’s attacking forays were Martial’s quick feet on the left and the precise passing of Rooney from his midfield position.

Somehow the score remained 1-0 after a spot of football pinball inside the Cherries box after great play by Rashford. The ball just wouldn’t go in after every shot was blocked by the defenders.

United had found the desire to kill the game off and Valencia came close with a cracker of a shot that Bournemouth keeper Federici brilliantly saved with his fingertips.

What a difference the two halves were proving to be.

The home side had another penalty shout when Lingard was brought down. However, the referee wasn’t interested in the appeals of United.

The visitors did manage to put the ball in the net, but to their disappointment, Wilson was correctly ruled offside. It was a reminder to United that one goal might not be enough.

Right on cue Rashford made it 2-0 in the 75th minute. The move started with a delightful ball played deep into the box by Rooney which was headed back into the danger area by Valencia and there was Rashford to fire a low shot into the net and celebrate his call-up to England’s provisional squad for the European Championships.

Van Gaal made three substitutions in the last ten minutes with Herrera, Memphis and Young replacing Mata, Rashford and Martial. And it was the forgotten man Young, who produced the icing get on the cake in the 87th minute with United’s third goal of the game after great work from the man of the match, Rooney. He beat the defence with a well-timed chip to provide Young with the easiest of chances to score to which he duly obliged.

The match had time for one more twist when in added time Smalling managed to put the ball into his own goal which denied De Gea a share of the league’s golden glove, much to the Spaniards dismay judging by his reaction.

After an anti-climatic first half at least the players brought the game to life in the second half. Rooney pulled the strings from his midfield role and provided a master class of passing combined with his never say die attitude when chasing back.

The main objective apart from the win was to not sustain any injuries before the cup final. In that respect mission accomplished.

United had chances so many times this season to make sure they booked their seat at the caviar and champagne table of the European elite and only have themselves to blame for ending up picking up the scraps in the Europa League.

Have we witnessed the van Gaal farewell at the Theatre of Dreams? Which in all reality has turned out to be nothing less than a nightmare for the coach who arrived with such high expectations following an impressive career across Europe. However, once again the season has fallen short for the club under his so-called philosophy.

Surely the time has come to put everyone, including van Gaal, out of their misery. No matter what happens in the FA Cup final the board have to find the right person who can take United in a new direction or witness the further demise of our great club.

Thanks for reading. Next stop Wembley.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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United Blow Their Chance

West Ham United 3 Manchester United 2

It was a night of heated tension as Manchester United came from behind only to gift West Ham two goals in the space of five minutes which allowed them to leave their home for the last 112 years on a high.

The evening started badly for the Red Devils even before the match had begun when their team bus came under attack on the way to the stadium. An event that could have shook the players confidence even before they had entered the ground. However, no excuses can be made for the way they squandered the lead after Martial’s double had put their noses in front.

This was the first of two important matches for the Red Devils in their season finale that would determine if their quest for a top-four finish would indeed materialise after another fairly disappointing season.

The target was clear win the last two games and they would secure a Champions League place at the expense of Man City. There could have been no greater incentive.

Louis van Gaal’s starting XI had a strong look about it: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Mata, Rooney, Rashford and Martial. Van Gaal made four changes by bringing back Blind, Schneiderlin, Rashford and Martial, who had been a doubt after pulling out in the warm-up against Norwich.

The match was delayed for forty-five minutes to allow Man United more time to prepare for the game as their team bus was late arriving at the ground due to the mass of home fans outside the stadium. Fans decided it would be fun to pelt the United bus with various objects including beer bottles and probably jellied eels as it was the East End.

Once the match got under way it became abundantly clear that not only did United have to overcome the opposition but also the partisan home crowd if they were to come away with the victory.

Immediately following the kick-off West Ham bombarded United’s penalty area and in doing so created panic in the away defence.

Martial didn’t seem to be hampered by injury as he burst into the box in the opening minutes and was unlucky not to be awarded a corner.

It was not the start United wanted when the Hammers took the lead in the tenth minute following a cross from the left that found Sakho unmarked in the box and his effort was deflected by Blind past the despairing dive of De Gea to give the home fans more to shout about.

This was proving to be a match that would truly test the characters of the United players as they were in a cauldron of hate pouring down from he stands.

West Ham had a perfect opportunity to double their lead when Carroll was played clean through but with only De Gea to beat he placed his shot too close to the keeper who managed to get a block in and save Smalling’s embarrassment as it was the defender who lost the run of Carroll.

The ball was in the United net again in the twenty-first minute but thankfully for United, the goal was disallowed as it had already crossed the line for a corner.

As the half hour mark approached United finally started to put some decent passes together and created some space on the flanks but were let down by the final ball.

On one such attack Valencia and Martial linked well on the right and when the cross was played over Mata was adjudged to have fouled a defender as he headed goalward.

After a rare mistake from Martial, who slipped while in possession, Payet was gifted a golden chance but he totally miscued his shot and it curled harmlessly wide.

At the other end, Rashford tried to get on the end of a pacey Rooney cross but the youngster seemed to mess up his jump and the chance was gone.

As the half neared its conclusion it was the home side who were on the front foot and had plenty of chances to put the game beyond the reach of the visitors.

There was a late shout for a penalty after Martial was nudged as he sped into the penalty area. However, Mike Dean immediately waved away the claims from the United players.

Half-time and behind to only a single goal meant that in the second half United still had to hope they could overturn the score. The biggest problem in the first half was that United weren’t allowed to settle and when they did have the ball they didn’t seem to know what to do with it.

The most creative player for United had been Rooney, who in his deeper role tried to pick out the runs of his forwards and was unlucky on a couple of occasions that his passes hadn’t been as pinpoint as usual.

United got the second half underway looking for a vastly improved second forty-five minutes compared to the first. Van Gaal made his first change at the start of the half when he replaced Schneiderlin with West Ham old boy Carrick.

In the 51st minute, the home fans failed to return the ball to De Gea from behind his goal so a replacement ball was called for. From De Gea’s goal kick the new ball eventually fell at the feet of Mata who showed great awareness inside the area to cut the ball back from the byline and his pass was swept home by Martial to make the scores level.

Superb play by Mata to create a chance out of a long punt by his keeper. Bet the home fans wished they hadn’t delayed play by not returning the ball.

Unfortunately, Martial followed up his strike with the first booking of the match.

United were looking more dangerous in attack as Rashford tried a cheeky backheel across the six-yard area that Herrera was unlucky not to get on the end of.

The Hammers still provided their own threats on United’s goal and in one attempted header by Carroll it took a goal line clearance by Rashford to save a certain goal.

As the match entered the last twenty minutes tackles flew in left right and centre and there were two cautions in quick succession for Carroll and Valencia.

Then in the 72nd minute, that man Anthony Martial scored his second of the game and 17th of the season to put United into a 2-1 lead.

The move began with Rooney who played the ball through to Rashford who in turn passed to Martial on the left-hand side of the area. The French forward still had a lot of work to do as he dribbled his way into the box then from a tight angle clipped the ball into the net. A brilliant finish from a player on top of his game.

After the jubilation of the equaliser, West Ham pressed United back and then turned the game on its head with two soft goals both headed in from close range by Antonio and Reid that stemmed from a couple of set pieces delivered by Payet and poorly defended by the United back four.

The last fifteen minutes were played out against a crescendo of noise generated by the home fans around the ground. They must have been loving the fact that they had got one over United.

Herrera was substituted after he had been cautioned and was replaced by Lingard for the last five minutes. The last change by van Gaal was to introduce Januzaj for Valencia to try and rescue at least a point from the game which they failed to do.

Game over and United headed back up north licking their wounds knowing that they had blown a great chance to come away with a win but instead fell to their tenth defeat in the league.

From the start West Ham went for the throat fired up by the occasion with the backing of their fans behind them and United seemed to take an age to settle especially at the back. Everybody knows what a danger Payet poses at dead ball situations so why on earth did the United players continue to concede free-kicks in dangerous areas? Once Martial had provided the lead United imploded in the space of five minutes with a display of inept defending and only have themselves to blame.

Now the advantage has been handed back to Man City who have to win away at Swansea while United host Bournemouth in the final games of the season. The Swans are not a push over so expect a few more twists and turns during the last ninety minutes of the current campaign.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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