Crystal Palace v Watford
A Connor Wickham pinpoint header sealed a FA Cup Final place for the Eagles as they beat Watford 2-1 to set up a re-match of the 1990 classic against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 21 May.
Wickham’s 61st minute strike ensured that history would repeat itself in one of the world’s most famous sporting competitions.
Palace had led for most of the first half thanks to a sixth minute header from Yannick Bolasie only for Watford to equalise 10 minutes into the second half with a 55th minute header from captain Troy Deeney.
With the red and blue army behind them, Alan Pardew’s side attacked their 2013 Play-Off Final opponents with a team back to full-strength following the 2-1 midweek loss at Old Trafford.
Joel Ward and Scott Dann returned from injury, with Jason Puncheon, Yannick Bolasie, Conor Wickham and Wayne Hennessey all coming back to the starting eleven. Joe Ledley, Bakary Sako and Emmanuel Adebayor all dropped to the bench which also featured James McArthur, on his way back to full fitness.
Using the famous width of Wembley Stadium, Palace quickly asserted their attacking authority, forcing their first corner after just three minutes, but Puncheon’s dead ball came to nothing.
Three minutes later, and with Yohan Cabaye on corner duties it was a different story. The Frenchman’s cross saw Damien Delaney beat his marker Craig Cathcart to flick the ball deep to the back post, evading Costel Pantilimon in the Watford goal and despite Deeney trying his very best, Bolasie had the easiest of knock-ins to make it 1-0 to Palace and send Pardew into celebratory shock with Keith Millen on the bench.
Bolasie’s cool and measured celebration echoed his side on the pitch in the first half as time and time again the forwards worked back hard to stifle any Watford threat.
Former Eagle Ben Watson, scorer of the 2013 FA Cup-winning goal for Wigan, was always going to be a threat with his set pieces, but his first chance ended with Hennessey getting an easy first touch and settling into the game.
Bolasie and Zaha were linking up well on the wide open spaces and after 11 minutes a Zaha cross found its way into the Watford box, signalling their attacking intent would continue.
Joel Ward, nearly made it two own goals in two games for the Palace defence as an hopeful pass from Allan Nyom evaded everyone in the Palace box and hit the right-back to go off for a corner when it could have easily ended up in the Palace goal.
Cabaye forced Pantilimon again to push away a dangerous cross in the 22nd minute as Palace continued to target the Watford goalkeeper, and the first of many penalty appeals rang out three minutes later as Deeney looked to touch the ball with his.
On the half hour mark Etienne Capoue was stretchered off for Watford after pulling up with an injury, and the Palace squad used it as an opportunity for to take on board some liquids.
But an effective attack is nothing without a strong defence and with Delaney and Hennessey – who did not have a shot to save in the first half - helping to snuff out Deeney 10 minutes before the break, Watford could not find a way through the brick wall – personified by the Irish defender falling to the ground in a daze after heading away a strong Jose Manuel Jurado shot.
Just before the half, Palace had another shout for a penalty as the ball appeared to hit Nathan Ake’s hand from a Zaha cross but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.
The second half saw Watford gradually come into the game more with an increased physical presence which resulted in Deeney outjumping Dann in the six-yard box to head home to make it 1-1 in the 55th minute.
Just five minutes earlier it could have been 2-0 to Palace as good link-up play between Wickham and Bolasie saw the DR Congo winger beat the right-back and drill a shot goalwards, only for Pantilimon to save with his feet and over for a corner.
Dann had just picked up a yellow card after fouling Odion Ighalo and in a test of mental fortitude; Palace continued to push Watford and were rewarded in the 61st minute.
As the ball broke down on the wing Pape Souare aimed an out swinging cross into the box on a sixpence for Wickham who easily beat a grounded Ake, and as the former Sunderland forward rose into the NorthWest London air, he directed a powerful header back from where it came to bury in the net and put Palace closer to avenging their 1990 defeat.
In the 63rd minute it was all hands to the pump for Palace as bodies were littered all over their area, such was the determination not to concede again – Dann, Jedinak, Cabaye and Puncheon were all left prone after they thwarted a Watford attack.
Pardew then brought on the returning James McArthur for a visibly tired Bolasie in the 74th minute, Bakary Sako for Jason Puncheon in the 81st and Emmanuel Adebayor for Wickham in the 86th minute – as the sold-out Palace end cheered the match winner off.
As the game entered five minutes of additional time, Deeney was booked for a clash with his arms on Jedinak in the penalty area but Palace held firm and with the final whistle, Palace fans, including Puncheon, who threw his shirt into the away end, could celebrate, knowing that they will be returning to the home of English football in under a month.