Wick­ham books his spot in folk­lore as Palace storm to fi­nal

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - TOTAL FOOTBALL FA CUP - Jeremy Wil­son DEPUTY FOOT­BALL COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Wem­b­ley

Alan Pardew had shown his Crys­tal Palace team a video of his own FA Cup semi-fi­nal win­ner from 1990 as part of his mo­ti­va­tional tac­tics for this match and his play­ers duly re­sponded with a vic­tory that will also be re­played for decades to come.

It was Con­nor Wick­ham who joined Pardew in Palace folk­lore by ap­ply­ing the fin­ish­ing touch to a tense 2-1 vic­tory, with the sense of sym­me­try only deep­ened by the loom­ing prospect of a re­peat of that clas­sic fi­nal against Manch­ester United.

Pardew, him­self, might have grown a few more grey hairs in the 26 years since Palace were beaten by Sir Alex Fer­gu­son’s United in a re­play but some of his touch­line fist-pump­ing here was not so very dif­fer­ent to when he was tak­ing the ac­claim of the fans af­ter dra­mat­i­cally scor­ing in ex­tra-time of the 4-3 semi-fi­nal vic­tory over Liver­pool at Villa Park.

It will be a sec­ond chance for Palace to win their first FA Cup and a third fi­nal per­son­ally for Pardew, whose West Ham United team went ag­o­nis­ingly close to beat­ing Liver­pool in 2006.

Vic­tory was noth­ing less than Palace had de­served af­ter a per­for­mance of pas­sion and am­bi­tion against a strangely sub­dued Wat­ford team. Wat­ford scored from one of only two shots on tar­get and, af­ter a se­quence of just three wins from 17 league matches, this was a dis­play that will do lit­tle for man­ager Quique Sánchez Flores’s chances of keep­ing his job.

Wat­ford owner Gino Pozzo was at Wem­b­ley and, while re­tain­ing their Premier League place must ul­ti­mately rep­re­sent a suc­cess­ful sea­son, the slump in form is un­der­stood to have be­come a con­cern to the club’s de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

An end-of-sea­son re­view will be held and, while it is dif­fi­cult to pin­point whether this par­tic­u­lar per­for­mance was the symp­tom of a wider malaise or ac­tu­ally the un­cer­tainty that now sur­rounds Flores, some­thing is clearly not right. The dip in the per­for­mances of Odion Ighalo is es­pe­cially alarm­ing and, from the first sec­ond to the last, it sim­ply felt like Palace wanted this more.

Pardew was par­tic­u­larly vin­di­cated in his de­ci­sion to se­lect Wick­ham rather than Em­manuel Ade­bayor along­side Yan­nick Bo­lasie in at­tack, with Palace start­ing the match at a fran­tic pace. They quickly forced a cor­ner from which Yo­han Cabaye’s de­liv­ery was flicked into the air by Damien De­laney.

With the ball loop­ing dan­ger­ously to­wards the back post, Wat­ford goal­keeper Cos­tel Pan­til­imon was un­able to scram­ble back across his line to pre­vent Bo­lasie out­jump­ing Troy Deeney and head­ing Palace into a sixth-minute lead. Wat­ford’s prob­lems were then al­most im­me­di­ately com­pounded when Éti­enne Capoue went down clutch­ing his knee fol­low­ing an ac­ci­den­tal col­li­sion with Bo­lasie.

Pro­longed treat­ment was re­quired and it soon be­came clear that Capoue would re­quire a stretcher to leave the pitch. He was re­placed by Mario Suarez and, although Wat­ford did be­gin to take a hold of pos­ses­sion, there was a gen­eral lethargy to their game and a lack of in­ci­sion in their pass­ing.

Allan Nyom was com­ing un­der sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure de­fen­sively but did at least re­main a threat push­ing for­ward and his curl­ing cross was al­most in­ad­ver­tently turned into his own goal by Joel Ward af­ter Wayne Hen­nessey had al­lowed the ball to flash across the six-yard box.

Palace, though, con­tin­ued to force Wat­ford back and had a plau­si­ble penalty ap­peal turned down shortly be­fore half-time when Wil­fried Zaha broke into the area and had his at­tempted cross blocked by Nathan Ake’s left arm.

Ref­eree Craig Paw­son judged that con­tact had been in­vol­un­tary but Pardew and his play­ers were again ap­peal­ing shortly af­ter half­time when Miguel Bri­tos tan­gled with Wick­ham.

Sub­se­quent re­plays con­firmed that con­tact was just out­side the penalty area but, as the last de­fender, there was an ar­gu­ment for a red card. It had also been a con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion by Flores to keep faith with Pan­til­imon in the FA Cup ahead of Heurelho Gomes but the for­mer Sun­der­land goal­keeper then went some way to jus­ti­fy­ing that de­ci­sion by bril­liantly sav­ing a pow­er­ful low Bo­lasie ef­fort with his legs.

Wat­ford’s threat re­mained only spo­radic but, from an­other cor­ner, they were sud­denly level. Jose Manuel Ju­rado’s de­liv­ery was cer­tainly pre­cise but Scott Dann, who had also con­ceded a free-kick in the build-up to the goal, just lost Deeney, whose deft header left Hen­nessey with lit­tle chance.

Hav­ing weath­ered so much Palace pres­sure, the sus­pi­cion was that Wat­ford’s goal might also prove piv­otal in chang­ing the pat­tern and rhythm of the match but Palace were in­spired rather than de­flated by the equaliser.

Papa Souaré drove for­ward down the left and de­liv­ered a su­perb cross from which Wick­ham rose bril­liantly above Ake to head his fin­ish back across Pan­til­imon and into the cor­ner of the goal.

Palace still had half an hour to hold out and, while Ju­rado and Ad­lene Gue­dioura each had chances to force the game into ex­tra time, a com­bi­na­tion of poor fin­ish­ing and brave last-gasp de­fend­ing, epit­o­mised by a mo­ment when Dann, Ja­son Pun­cheon, Cabaye and De­laney were all on the floor af­ter block­ing shots, en­sured Palace’s progress.

Glad all over: Con­nor Wick­ham cel­e­brates head­ing Palace’s win­ner Palace re­peat their semi-fi­nal trick 26 years on Palace won the 1990 semi-fi­nal when Andy Thorn flicked on a cor­ner and Alan Pardew headed in.

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