LONDON, April 24- Crystal Palace will face Manchester United in their first FA Cup final for 26 years after Connor Wickham sealed a 2-1 win over Watford at Wembley on Sunday.
Alan Pardew’s side swept into an early lead in the semi-final through Congo forward Yannick Bolasie before Watford’s Troy Deeney equalised soon after the interval.
Palace were the better team for long periods and Wickham settled it midway through the second half to give his club a chance to avenge their 1990 FA Cup final loss against United, who are looking to win the competition for the first time since 2004 after beating Everton on Saturday.
It was an especially sweet moment for Palace boss Pardew, who was a member of the Eagles team beaten by Alex Ferguson’s United in 1990 when Lee Martin scored the replay winner after the first match ended in a 3-3 draw.
Pardew has proved something of a good luck charm for Palace in the FA Cup and he celebrated taking the club to only their second final in the competition 26 years after scoring the winner against Liverpool the last time the south Londoners won a semi-final.
Watford’s failure to reach their first FA Cup final for 32 years will increase speculation about the future of manager Quique Sanchez Flores after reports the Hornets’ poor form in 2016 could lead to his sacking after one season in charge.
After a superb first half of the season, Palace had plunged dramatically in 2016, with only one win from their last 18 league games.
But despite their struggles, Pardew’s men were enjoying their best Cup run for over two decades and they took just six minutes to seize the initiative.
Yohan Cabaye whipped a corner towards the near post where Damien Delaney flicked a back header towards the far post for the unmarked Bolasie to head home from virtually on the line.
Bolasie’s sixth goal of the season was an emotional moment for the forward, who hadn’t forgotten the frustration he felt in 2013 when he was an unused substitute during Palace’s Championship play-off final win over Watford at Wembley.
– Lethargic –
Costel Pantilimon had to make an alert save when Cabaye aimed for the far corner and not long after that the France midfielder, at the heart of all Palace’s best moments with his smooth passing, tested Watford’s goalkeeper with a dipping free-kick.
Adding to Watford’s problems, Etienne Capoue was stretchered off after the former Tottenham midfielder crumpled to the turf with what looked like a knee injury following an off-the-ball collision with Bolasie.
It could have been even worse for lethargic Watford before half-time when Nathan Ake avoided conceding a penalty despite blocking Wilfried Zaha’s cross with his hand.
Little had been seen from Deeney in the first half, so it was an encouraging sign for Flores when the striker threatened with a header soon after the interval.
Bolasie remained a man possessed and he tore down the left flank before drilling a low shot that Pantilimon saved with his legs.
But Watford were more dangerous now and in the 55th minute they won the corner that brought their equaliser.
Deeney’s desire and muscular aerial power got him to the ball before Dann and he angled a fine glancing header past Wayne Hennessey for his 11th goal of the season.
Yet Watford’s joy was short-lived as Palace regained the lead only six minutes later.
What should have been a situation that posed no danger proved fatal for the Hornets as they went to sleep from a Palace throw, allowing Papa Souare time for a high cross that Ake was slow to react to as Wickham towered above him to head past Pantilimon.
Watford substitute Adlene Guedioura almost forced extra-time when he scuffed wide in the last minute, but Palace held on for their moment of glory.