Crystal Palace 3-3 Manchester United
Wembley Stadium, May 12th 1990
21 years ago today, Manchester United faced Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup Final at Wembley.
It was a chance for Alex Ferguson to win his first trophy as United manager against a club who had taken four points off The Red Devils during the League season. After United were defeated 2-1 at Old Trafford by Palace in December 1989, a banner was unfurled on the terraces reading: “Three years of excuses and it’s still crap. Ta ra Fergie!”
United had spent an estimated £13m on the team in Ferguson’s first few years as manager to no avail. The Reds had finished 11th, 2nd and 11th in the seasons prior to the 1989/90 campaign. The season had started brightly with a 4-1 victory over reigning Champions Arsenal but United failed to kick on, and the defeat to Palace left United perilously close to the relegation zone and enough was enough for some supporters.
With the team already having been dumped out of the League Cup after a humiliating 3-0 home defeat to Spurs in the 3rd Round and with no chance of catching the League leaders Liverpool, the FA Cup was United’s last chance of silverware, and Ferguson’s last chance to save his job.
United were away to Nottingham Forest in the 3rd Round in a game that is widely regarded as the one that saved Ferguson’s job. Pundits famously wrote United off before kick-off saying that, “they (the team) already looked beaten”, but a solitary Mark Robins header was enough to send United through.
On the run to the final United never played at Old Trafford and faced trips to lower-League opposition in Hereford, Newcastle and Sheffield United. The Semi-final at Maine Road was contested against local opposition, Oldham Athletic – another lower-division outfit. The first game finished in a 3-3 draw before United finally booked their place at Wembley with a 2-1 victory in the replay.
United and Palace finished 13th and 15th in the League respectively- with only goal difference separating the teams, so despite the London team going into the Final as underdogs, there wasn’t much to choose from between the two. Indeed, it was to be Palace who took the lead in the 18th minute when Gary O’Reilly’s header looped over the incompetent Jim Leighton in the United goal.
The Reds started to press, with Brian McClair going close before the Scotsman sent in a deep-cross that was headed in – via a defection, by Bryan Robson in the 35th minute. Captain Marvel’s goal meant that the teams went in level at half-time.
In the 62nd minute United took the lead for the first time when a ricocheted ball found its way to an unmarked Mark Hughes, after Palace time and again failed to clear their lines. The goal led to Eagles manager and former-United hero, Steve Coppell bringing on striker Ian Wright and going to 4-4-2. The decision paid dividends after just three minutes, as Wright rounded both Mike Phelan and Gary Pallister to finish past the despairing Leighton and pull Palace level.
At the end of 90 minutes, the score was 2-2 and extra-time was needed. Within two minutes of the restart Palace were once again ahead; another piece of poor goalkeeping from Leighton allowed Wright to volley home a John Salako cross.
With just seven minutes to go United levelled when Hughes slid home his second following Danny Wallace’s through ball and send the Final to a replay.
Five days later Manchester United won their first trophy under Alex Ferguson with a 1-0 victory in the replay courtesy of a rare goal from left-back Lee Martin. Les Sealey replaced Jim Leighton in goal and his display condemned Leighton to just one more first-team appearance for United – a League Cup tie against Halifax Town, before he left the club in 1991.
United’s line up that day
1. Leighton; 5. Phelan, 4. Bruce, 6. Pallister, 3. Martin; 8. Webb, 2. Ince, 7. Robson, 11. Wallace; 9. McClair, 10. Hughes. Substitutes: 12. Robins, 14. Blackmore.