Connor Wickham fires Crystal Palace into FA Cup final showdown with Man Utd
Crystal Palace 2 1 Watford
Published 24/04/2016 | 18:18
Connor Wickham fired Crystal Palace into the FA Cup final to give manager Alan Pardew a third shot at lifting the trophy.
Wickham's towering header just after the hour mark secured a 2-1 win over Watford and a return to Wembley to face Manchester United next month. Yannick Bolasie nodded Palace into a ninth-minute lead but Troy Deeney hauled the Hornets level just after half-time.
However, Wickham's strike means Pardew has the chance to make it third time lucky, having lost in the final as a player to United in 1990 and as manager of West Ham against Liverpool in 2006.
Pardew, of course, had memorably nodded the Eagles into the final with their dramatic extra-time winner against Liverpool. And 26 years later he was celebrating with a clenched fist and a knowing grin as his current side created a carbon copy for Bolasie's opener.
This time it was Yohan Cabaye, rather than Andy Gray, who swung in a corner towards the near post . Damien Delaney reprised the Andy Thorn flick-on and Bolasie applied the Pardew finish, squeezing his header between the far post and Hornets goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon.
Watford attempted to hit back but were limited to Deeney's curler over the crossbar and Allan Nyom's deep cross, which caused momentary concern in the Palace area before Joel Ward turned the ball behind.
The Hornets suffered a major blow after half an hour when midfielder Etienne Capoue, an influential figure all season, collapsed in agony after a seemingly innocuous off-the-ball collision with Bolasie.
The France international departed on a stretcher with a knee injury and with him went any Watford momentum for the remainder of the first half. Indeed, they could count themselves fortunate not to be two down at the interval after Wilfried Zaha's cross clearly hit the hand of Nathan Ake in the area - but referee Craig Pawson waved away Palace's appeals for a penalty.
After the break Bolasie twisted and turned his way into the Watford box and forced Pantilimon to saved a fierce angled drive with his feet. A Hornets revival still appeared unlikely, until they forced a corner following Ben Watson's deflected free-kick 10 minutes into the second half.
Jose Jurado's delivery was perfect for Deeney, who got in front of his marker Scott Dann to plant a firm header past Wayne Hennessey.
However, Watford were level for just six minutes before Pape Souare sent an inviting high cross towards Wickham, who rose above Ake and guided a towering header across Pantilimon and into the far corner.
Again Watford tried to muster a response but Odion Ighalo, a peripheral figure all afternoon, blazed over the crossbar and sub Adlene Guedioura fired wide in stoppage time.
So the Hornets' cup run came to an end while Pardew, who has long felt this competition may just owe him one, gets another tilt at United and glory for Pala