Crystal Palace 1 Manchester Utd 2: Tedium of van Gaal’s reign evident even in FA Cup win

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, left, and Michael Carrick lift the FA Cup after victory over Crystal Palace (Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire).
Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, left, and Michael Carrick lift the FA Cup after victory over Crystal Palace (Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire).
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Shambolic, totally out of keeping with tradition and, at times, an insult to the paying public.

No, not the Football Association’s laughable notion of what constitutes suitable pre-match entertainment for an FA Cup final, but much of Louis van Gaal’s reign as manager of Manchester United.

The Dutchman is expected to be relieved of his duties this week with Jose Mourinho coming in at Old Trafford.

It is a switch that cannot come soon enough, even allowing for van Gaal signing off with this FA Cup triumph thanks to Jesse Lingard’s extra-time winner.

Under the 64-year-old, the Red Devils have become the very antithesis of the side that dominated English football for so long under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Predictable, dour and joyless, United need a fresh start and Mourinho, a three-times Premier League winner, will bring just that.

A record-equalling 12th Cup success may have ensured the season ended on a high, but even the comeback win over an average Crystal Palace underlined just why things were not going to work out under van Gaal.

United dominated possession throughout but, save for individual pieces of brilliance from Wayne Rooney and Marcus Rashford, rarely looked like translating that into goals.

Far too much of their play was laborious and stilted, almost as if the training ground repetition that van Gaal insists on has pulled the plug on the electric play that characterised Ferguson’s reign.

Ferguson was at Wembley on Saturday, joining Steve Coppell in bringing the Cup out ahead of quite possibly the most laughably bad pre-match entertainment ceremony in history.

After someone called Tinie Tempah – no, me neither – had ‘treated’ the 88,619 crowd to his latest rap offering at an ear-bleedingly high volume, singer Karen Harding managed to miss her cue to sing the national anthem.

It meant, as the fans launched into God Save the Queen, Harding wore a confused look as she pressed hard at an ear-piece that was clearly not working.

Eventually, she joined in but the damage had been done. The only thing missing was Diana Ross fluffing a penalty kick a la 1994 World Cup opening ceremony and it is to be hoped the FA will stick more closely to tradition in the future.

Thanks to Tempah sauntering out late to perform, the final did not kick-off on time. The delay seemed to suit United, who settled quicker against a Palace side whose passing radar was off kilter.

That was, however, until the 18th minute when referee Mark Clattenberg stepped centre stage with a decision that rightly infuriated Alan Pardew and his players.

A pass down United’s right flank saw Chris Smalling and Connor Wickham tussle for the ball. Wickham, a former Sheffield Wednesday loanee, emerged with possession and bore down on goal only for Clattenberg to pull play back for a foul by the England defender.

The official can usually be relied upon to play advantage so just why he failed to do so is a question that is likely to haunt Palace for a long time, not least because Wickham subsequently avoided a sliding tackle from Daley Blind before firing into an empty net.

David de Gea, admittedly, made no attempt to stop the shot so we will never know if Wickham would have netted or not without play being halted.

But the striker should have been given the opportunity, a point that Clattenberg, judging by his facial expression, quickly realised.

“I was really disappointed with the Connor decision,” said Eagles manager Pardew, “particularly because you could see he was going to get up first and the advantage was really with us. To be pulled back was really harsh.”

Pardew’s mood was not improved shortly before half-time when Clattenberg again pulled play back for a foul as Joel Ward scampered clear of Marcos Rojo’s attentions.

United added more urgency to their play after the interval and twice hit the woodwork in quick succession through Marouane Fellaini and Anthony Martial. A delightful flick from Rashford had created the first of those opportunities and when the talented youngster was forced out of the action the initiative finally swung the way of Palace.

Jason Puncheon, brought off the bench by Pardew, broke the deadlock on 78 minutes with a ferocious shot that beat de Gea to spark joyous celebrations among the Eagles fans.

Pardew joined in the fun with a touchline jig of delight, but just three minutes later the scores were level again.

A quite brilliant run and chipped cross from Rooney, one of many United players operating out of position, allowed Fellaini to chest the ball down for Juan Mata to equalise.

It meant extra-time and when Smalling was shown a second yellow card for a tackle that belonged in Super League, Palace sensed a big opportunity to avenge their Cup final defeat of 1990.

Lingard, however, had other ideas, the substitute lashing in an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area that meant van Gaal’s two-year reign has its first – and probably last –- piece of silverware.

Van Gaal, when leaving the team hotel, was asked about reports that Mourinho was on the verge of taking over.

“It is over,” was the Dutchman’s reply. Given the brevity of the comment, too much cannot be read into the words but the suggestion is that van Gaal’s time at Old Trafford is up.

Crystal Palace: Hennessey; Ward, Dann (Mariappa 90), Delaney, Souare; Cabaye, McArthur, Jedinak; Zaha, Wickham (Gayle 85), Bolasie. Unused substitutes: Speroni, Adebayor, Sako, Kelly, (Puncheon 72).

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo (Darmian 66); Fellaini, Carrick, Rooney; Mata (Lingard 89), Rashford (Young 72), Martial. Unused substitutes: Romero, J ones, Herrera, Schneiderlin.