Andy Gray: Crystal Palace can succeed where we didn’t in 1990 and beat inconsistent Man Utd tonight
By Alessandro Schiavone
When Crystal Palace and Manchester United renew hostilities at Selhurst Park tonight, club legend Andy Gray will inevitably cast his mind back to the infamous FA Cup final in 1990.
Legendary Crystal Palace striker Ian Wright had justcome off the bench to restore his side's lead in extra-time as the Eagles were about to claim bragging rights at Wembley and win their first piece of major silverware in their 85-year old history.
But the incredulous SE25 faithful had to put the champagne on ice when their hapless side was forced into a replay after being pegged back by Man United striker Mark Hughes seven minutes from time.
For all their endeavours, goal chances and possession, Palace couldn’t make it count five days later, enabling the beleaguered and much-maligned Alex Ferguson, not yet knighted back then, to win his first trophy at Old Trafford. And in doing so, the under-fire manager ended months of speculation about his future.
He said: “It was a good game. We had momentum in the first game but it was just one of them things, our name wasn’t written on the cup. And obviously they got the equaliser seven minutes before the end. And it was kind of anti-climax from there.
”We played well on the day and so it wasn’t a case of going into the replay thinking they were far superior than us. The replay just didn’t go our way, it’s just one of them games, you know.
“Everything seemed to go against us, they changed their goalkeeper, bringing in Tony Sealey for Jim Leighton and he basically stole the show that evening.
“It just wasn’t meant to be for us. We were supposed to win it on the Saturday and they got the rub of the green on the Wednesday.
“But it was a great experience and a honour to play in an English cup final, especially against the pedigree of Man United. There was talk about Ferguson being sacked if they lost but that’s the beautiful thing about football. Ninety minutes or 120 minutes can change the course of history.”
A year on from that heartbreak, Crystal Palace outshone the Red Devils in the league, finishing a staggering ten points above them, after flirting for a long time with glory.
"All I say is Palace fans were proud of getting to the final, beating Liverpool in the semis and proud of us finishing third in the league. And these are two things that will stay in the memory of Palace fans until whichever current squad surpasses finshing third in the league and second in the FA Cup", he said.
Finishing runners-up in the FA Cup and a place below in the First Division in consecutive seasons was no mean feat. Yet Palace have been unable to lay a glove on Manchester United over the course of an entire season ever since.
But anything can happen in one game and the 56-year old former midfielder is already licking his lips at the thought of both sides facing off tonight. Crystal Palace may fluff their lines when they go into games as favourites but often cause an upset when nobody has put their money on them.
And Gray is upbeat about Palace's chances of doing the double over ‘inconsistent’ Manchester United on the back of their 3-1 away win in the reverse fixture back in September.
He said:“Yes, Crystal Palace can win because Man United are very inconsistent and Palace play much better against better opposition. When they are supposed to do what they are supposed to do, they don’t. And when they are not supposed to do what they are supposed to do, they do the opposite”, he chuckled.
“It is down to the players and attitudes and how much they really want it. Palace got a chance to win against Man United tonight, definitely, because they are very inconsistent.”
Palace have lost an alarming 18 times in 20 matches without superstar Wilfried Zaha in the Premier League but Gray believes there are enough players who can fill in and take up the mantle of game-changers in the injured Ivorian's absence.
“Christian Benteke, Jordan Ayew and Eberechi Eze can make the difference and step up [if Zaha doesn’t play]. It’s just about who wants it more on the day. On paper Man United have got a better team, so if they perform to their ability, then Palace won’t win. You need a lot of different factors to get a result against a better team."