Crystal Palace edges Watford to reach FA Cup final

Crystal Palace's Yannick Bolasie, right, shoots while Watford's Craig Cathcart attempts a block. (Tim Ireland/AP)

LONDON — Twenty-six years on from its one and only appearance in the FA Cup final, Crystal Palace has another chance to win its first major trophy following a 2-1 defeat of Watford in the semifinals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

And as in 1990, Palace will be taking on Manchester United following its victory over Everton on Saturday in the other semifinal, also by the score 2-1.

The 1990 final is widely regarded as one of the competition’s best. United was the overwhelming favourite but Palace nearly pulled off one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup history. Following a dramatic 3-3 draw, United won the replay 1-0 to give Alex Ferguson his first trophy as United manager.

Current Palace manager, Alan Pardew, was a member of that team took United so close.

"I hope destiny isn’t the same result," Pardew said.

Though the two teams are different, Pardew said there were traits that the two shared, including pacey attackers.

"I was very pleased for the club today because we definitely took our focus off the league," he said. "I think Man United have a difficult game in the final. They will be favourites for sure."

A recent upturn in form, which saw Palace claim its first win in the Premier League in 2016, means the team has virtually assured its survival in the top flight for another season. Though Palace lies only two spots above the relegation zone, it’s eight points clear of the drop zone with games fast running out.

"We just have to keep our focus, or I do, in the short-term to make sure this team is ready for three important league games, get our points, get that done and enjoy the cup final," he said.

Pardew’s team dominated large stretches of the semifinal against Watford, especially in the first half. Palace took the lead in the sixth minute when winger Yannick Bolasie headed home after a corner from Yohan Cabaye was flicked on at the near post by Damien Delaney.

Watford drew level in the 55th minute when striker Troy Deeney out-jumped Palace defender Scott Dann to head past Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

Watford wasn’t level for long as striker Connor Wickham put Palace ahead one final time in the 61st after he easily out-jumped Watford defender Nathan Ake to meet Papa Souare’s sweeping cross.

Much of Palace’s attacking thrust lay at the feet of the team’s two wingers, Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha.

For Zaha, the final will have added resonance as the 23-year-old forward spent two years at United before being sold back to Crystal Palace last year.

Zaha, who was signed by Ferguson, only played a handful of games for United and spent much of his time there out on loan at other clubs, including Palace.

"It’s going to be a big day for him of course because it didn’t work out for him there," said Pardew. "But he’s shown today, this guy’s got unbelievable ability."

Pardew said he spoke to Ferguson on Wednesday and that he could sense a sense of disappointment in the former United manager.

"He knows he has Man United traits. He’s quick, he’s powerful, he can run all day, he can run quick all day. He just needed a bit more experience and he’s getting that now. He’ll only get better from this day forward."

In spite of the defeat, Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores said his team should be positive about what it has achieved this season.

In its first year back in the Premier League, many expected Watford to struggle. But following a strong first half to the season, Watford’s survival was assured with weeks to spare.

"The main target of this year was to keep in the Premier League," he said. "We have reason to be happy."

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