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Carling Cup review: Crystal Palace soar high with victory at Old Trafford

Carling Cup quarter-final: Manchester United 1-2 Crystal Palace (AET)

It was all supposed to be so very predictable. Once their two biggest and bitterest rivals had qualified 24 hours earlier it was subsequently written in the stars that Manchester United would join Manchester City and Liverpool in forming a snarling triumvirate of North Western giants which would guarantee at least one scintillating winter warmer of a semi-final in January and probably a tasty final too at the end of February. However, Dougie Freedman’s Crystal Palace had other ideas at Old Trafford.

From the first minute to the last breaths of extra time The Eagles performed a very unconvincing impression of a side happy to make up the numbers. Palace’s youngsters were bright and inventive and, when they needed to, they snapped and snarled at their illustrious opponents who, despite fielding their second eleven, boasted nine full internationals and were odds on to make the last four.

After a goalless first half the introduction of the Londoner’s talisman Darren Ambrose proved to be the catalyst to success. After 65 minutes the ex-Newcastle United man received a pass from Palace super kid Wilfred Zaha and blasted a 35 yard wonder strike into the top corner right in front of a stunned Stretford End.

An incredible goal but United were level just three minutes later thanks to a Federico Macheda penalty and the stage was set for the Reds to finally put their plucky opponents to bed.

Instead, Palace regained control, took the tie to extra time and won it thanks to a glancing header from substitute Glenn Murray after a pinpoint cross from that man Ambrose. Try as they might, United couldn’t find a second riposte and Crystal Palace, to the delight of their travelling fans, famously became the second Championship club to reach the last four following Cardiff City's win over Blackburn on Tuesday.

The shock at Old Trafford changed the dynamic of the draw which followed straight afterwards. The neutrals (and probably the sponsors) hoping for a big Premier League final saw their hopes dashed as Man City drew Liverpool and a Championship finalist was guaranteed as Palace were pitted against Cardiff.

Semi-finals:

Manchester City vs Liverpool
Crystal Palace vs Cardiff City

First legs take place on January 9, with return ties being played on January 23.

By Phil Nicholas


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