Manchester United came from behind and survived Chris Smalling’s sending-off to beat Crystal Palace and win the FA Cup at Wembley through Jesse Lingard’s extra-time strike.
As Wembley was awash with growing speculation this this would be Louis van Gaal’s final match as United manager – based on reports that he will be replaced by Jose Mourinho next week – he was able to add English football’s most glamorous cup to his honours list.
United looked on course to end the season empty-handed as well as missing out on Champions League football when substitute Jason Puncheon’s powerful far-post finish put Palace ahead with 12 minutes left.
It was harsh on United, who had hit the woodwork through Marouane Fellaini and Antony Martial, but they responded within four minutes with a brilliant run from Wayne Rooney that ended with Juan Mata scoring from close range.
United lost Smalling to a second yellow card for hauling back Yannick Bolasie in extra time – but Lingard took the trophy to Old Trafford when he lashed home a first-time strike from Damien Delaney’s half-clearance after 110 minutes.
All the messages in and around Wembley before and during this FA Cup final pointed to this Wembley showpiece marking the end of Van Gaal’s largely undistinguished two-year spell in charge.
When his expected replacement with Mourinho is confirmed, the 64-year-old Dutchman can at least take pleasure and credit for returning United to trophy-winning ways for the first time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
And this was another performance in a manner that has become their FA Cup template this season, driving on through periods of adversity to eventually come out of the other side victorious, something for which Van Gaal deserves praise.
They won at West Ham in a quarter-final replay then survived a comeback from a resurgent Everton to win the semi-final with Antony Martial’s late winner.
And here they shrugged off Smalling’s red card to show real resilience and character.
It was a victory that clearly meant so much to Van Gaal as the normally impassive manager raced from his seat in the technical area to celebrate Lingard’s winner.
In what appears to be his last act as manager, it was one that illustrates he will leave on a high. (BBC)