Don't hope for Palace to beat United in FA Cup final, says Neil Humphreys
Eagles reach final, but struggle against poor Watford
CRYSTAL PALACE 2
(Yannick Bolasie 6, Connor Wickham 61)
(Troy Deeney 55)
History has been repeated in the FA Cup semi-final.
Prepare for a similar outcome in the final.
Alan Pardew guided Crystal Palace to an FA Cup final date with Manchester United as a player and has now done the same as a manager.
The Eagles lost in 1990. Barring a miracle, they will do so again next month.
If Louis van Gaal cannot conjure a winning formula to prevail in the season-ending showpiece, then he'll not only rubberstamp his exit visa. He'll never be allowed back into Manchester again.
Crystal Palace defeated Watford 2-1 last night, but the Wembley walkabout struggled to rouse even the most hopeless of romantics.
Three neat headers couldn't quite mask the anti-climactic reality that the semi-final was a plodding affair between two mid-table sides.
Van Gaal must be confident of leaving United with a little face-saving silverware.
Even allowing for United's alarming inconsistency, Palace lack the depth to overwhelm the Red Devils. They laboured to defeat a Watford side that viewed defending as an unnecessary optional extra.
Watford's supporters turned up in droves, but their defenders failed to do likewise as Palace took an early lead.
The lively Jason Puncheon won a corner, which Yohan Cabaye swung into a congested box in the sixth minute. There were plenty of black and yellow Hornets, but all had feet of honey treacle.
A flick-on found Yannick Bolasie at the far post and the Palace striker bundled the ball home.
Both sides, in a heart-warming throwback to their heyday in the Eighties, opted for a 4-4-2 approach.
With Watford fans wearing classic jerseys from their solitary FA Cup final appearance in 1984 and Palace punters popping up in 1990 shirts, when the Eagles soared in that legendary 3-3 final draw with United, the whole occasion had a retro feel.
It was a wonder they didn't walk out at Wembley to Rick Astley or Bananarama.
But the Eagles' Take It Easy might have been more appropriate selection.
Alan Pardew's Eagles made the most of their formation.
Cabaye often fed Puncheon and Bolasie quickly but, when possession was lost, Palace always bid a hasty retreat, cutting the supply to Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo.
Deeney and Ighalo were leaden-footed in comparison, rarely tacking back.
Etienne Capoue sought to overcompensate with a rugged display in midfield, but his injury after half an hour robbed Watford of their most productive performer.
Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores dashed down the tunnel at half-time, rubbing his beard like an angry man with an itch he couldn't scratch.
He'd lost his most accomplished midfielder and his men were losing most of their personal battles.
The big, burly pair of Puncheon and Bolasie had the menacing air of school bullies, shaking poor Allan Nyom until he handed over his lunch money.
Bolasie might have doubled his tally early in the second half, but his low drive was deflected over by Costel Pantilimon, whose gangly frame can resemble a giraffe stooping to reach low-hanging leaves.
And then, against the run of play, Watford equalised with a bullet header from Deeney in the 55th minute.
Despite Scott Dann hugging Deeney for so long it was a wonder he didn't propose, the Watford striker craned his head around the centre back like a turtle in search of anchovies and buried the cross.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, a game of football broke out as formations, tactics and defensive discipline gave way to the kind of anarchic, free-spirited farce.
Watford's lead lasted all of six minutes.
A third header delivered a third goal and Connor Wickham's was the pick of the bunch.
The Palace forward, who was otherwise quiet, towered over Nathan Ake to plant a firm header past Pantilimon. An embarrassed Ake stared down at the turf in disbelief, probably in search of a trampoline.
Watford battled on, but Palace held on to repeat their FA Cup history.
Making FA Cup history, on the other hand, will be a much tougher task against United.