Jesse Lingard smashed home a brilliant extra time volley to win 10-man Manchester United a record-equalling 12th FA Cup after overcoming Crystal Palace at Wembley. Juan Mata cancelled out Jason Puncheon's strike to take the game into an extra 30 minutes, during which Chris Smalling was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Palace looked to have the initiative as well as the numerical advantage but after Dwight Gayle was denied by David de Gea, United grabbed what turned out to be the winner after 110 minutes, prior to penalties, as Damien Delaney half-cleared to Lingard whose first time strike flew into the top corner beyond a motionless Wayne Hennessey.
Victory is unlikely to breathe new life into Louis van Gaal's hopes of remaining at Old Trafford - amid rumours Jose Mourinho is preparing to take over - but he does claim the first honour of his tenure and since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Meanwhile, Alan Pardew will bemoan his side's inability to convert their lead given to them by substitute Puncheon and deliver the club's first major trophy - but new investment in the team raises expectation ahead of next season.
Twenty-six years on from their epic cup final meeting in 1990, Palace and United were pitted against each other once again. Pardew, a survivor from that memorable final, led the south London outfit bidding to win their first ever major trophy and earn qualification for Europe for the first time for 18 years.
Eleven-time winners United were consumed by an altogether different pressure with Van Gaal facing further speculation over his future after the club failed to qualify for the Champions League. It would be left to be seen whether a major trophy would convince the Old Trafford board to allow the Dutch coach to see out the third year of his contract but defeat would all but secure his fate.
Wilfried Zaha would be among the tormentors in chief for United - chosen to start against his former club despite being seen crying prior to the game - with Mile Jedinak selected ahead of Puncheon. Marouane Fellaini returned from suspension for 19-time finalists, while Marcos Rojo beat Cameron Northwick-Jackson to a place at left-back.
The game had not yet begun before the final was riddled in farce. A performance from pop star Tinie Tempah, a half-cooked rendition of 'Abide With Me' and a performance of the national anthem which saw singer Karen Harding miss the start contributed to a shambolic and delayed start to a game which had already been criticised for its tea-time kick-off.
The enormity of the occasion appeared to effect Palace in the early stages, with United monopolising possession. Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney were occupying the space between the lines and the former almost laid on the opening goal but Papa Souare got to Marcus Rashford before he could test Hennessey.
Palace were restricted to floating aimless balls towards lone striker Connor Wickham, but James McArthur's pass should have led to the opening goal. Wickham regained his feet after being felled by Smalling, but instead of being allowed to take on De Gea referee Mark Clattenburg came to United's rescue to award the foul.
The Eagles' injustice was almost compounded minutes later when Mata benefitted from the ball rebounding off Souare and forced Hennessey info a fine low save. Fellaini should have then marked his return with the opening goal, but headed wide from six yards.
The chances continued to come for Van Gaal's side, with Rashford displaying the exuberance of youth, scampering past Delaney and teeing up Anthony Martial who was denied by Joel Ward's goal-line block. Clattenburg was then at the centre of more controversy when he again failed to play advantage when Ward beat Marcos Rojo and went through on goal.
As many supporters continued to take they seats after half time, United created the best chance of the game after 54 minutes. Rashford played a delightful flick to open up the Palace defence and Fellaini beat Hennessey with an arrowing drive but was denied by the crossbar.
The woodwork came to Palace's aid again on the hour mark when Martial directed Antonio Valencia's cross onto the right-hand post. The near-miss was another example of United's failure to take advantage of their authority, but breathed new life into Palace's chances despite Pardew's team continuing to play a bit-part in the final.
And Palace would take full advantage of their second life by taking the lead in dramatic fashion with 12 minutes remaining. Ward stroked the ball out of substitute Puncheon, who five minutes after coming on brought it down and lashed it beyond De Gea from the angle. United's players hung their heads as Palace's supporters began to dream of the club's first major trophy.
However, the lead lasted just three minutes as United levelled when Rooney's brilliantly marauded into the penalty area and when Fellaini brought the ball down at the back post, Mata arrived on cue to volley beyond Hennessey. Both teams threw players forward in an effort to win the game inside normal time, but Zaha's effort which found the side-netting was the closest either side came as the contest went to extra time - just like the final in 1990.
The extra 30 minutes were naturally consumed with nerves, with chances few and far between. Yannick Bolasie tested De Gea with a fine volley from range, which the Spaniard turned behind at the last minute. The final then swung in the direction of Palace as Smalling became the first Englishman to be sent off in an FA Cup final, as he was dismissed on the stroke of half time in extra time after pulling Bolasie to the ground.
The initiative was very much with the Selhurst Park club and Gayle could have put them ahead for a second time but his toe-poked strike was saved by De Gea. Despite being at a numerical disadvantage United were still able to threaten and they got what looked like the winner when Lingard reacted first after Delaney's clearance to smash into the top corner from 16 yards. Palace pilled players forward in an effort to draw level, but they were denied as Van Gaal claimed a victory which could yet keep him in the United hot-seat.