Crystal Palace have pulled off a stunning upset to advance to the Carling Cup semifinals, defeating Manchester United 2-1 after extra time at Old Trafford. It wasn't a fluke win either. Although United (who were admittedly fielding a reserve side) looked dangerous throughout the match, the visitors defended superbly and seriously threatened their hosts on the counterattack, with 19-year-old winger Wilfried Zaha routinely tying United's back line in knots whenever Palace broke forwards.
It didn't look as though the game would be anything memorable after a first half that mostly consisted of sloppy midfield play and general inability for either side to break the other's defence down. Fortunately for the viewers, each team made two substitutions before the second half began, with Dimitar Berbatov hauled off for Ravel Morrison and Ezekiel Fryers replacing the injured Fabio da Silva while a pair of injuries forced Palace to introduce Darren Ambrose and Jonathan Parr.
The game opened up in a big way after the restart, with Antonio Valencia flashing a shot just wide of Lewis Price's far post after some lackadaisical play by Anthony Gardner, and United utterly dominant for the first fifteen minutes. The main action, however, was to happen at the other end, when Ambrose found himself in space almost fifty yards from Ben Amos' net, took a couple of touches and absolutely hammered the ball into the top corner. It was a wonderful goal, worthy of winning any match, and so it was a little bit sad when Frederico Macheda was yanked over in the box by Pattrick McCarthy before the Palace fans had even stopped cheering, giving United the opportunity to reply with a mood-deflating goal.
They did, with Macheda taking the spot kick himself, sending Price the wrong way to level the score. Surprisingly, that didn't catapult United into a period of dominance (perhaps that's less surprising when you look at the team they were fielding), and despite the game being tied at 1-1 it was the visitors who seemed most likely to score. Palace were still going after that second goal, even as the clock ticked down towards extra time.
They wouldn't get their breakthrough before the full time whistle went, but it didn't take long before they were ahead again, with Zaha tricking his way into a dangerous free kick on the Palace left. Ambrose swung the ball in, and the suspiciously offside-looking Glenn Murray beat Johnny Evans to the header, nodding past a helpless Amos to make it 2-1.
Shortly thereafter, Ambrose nearly made it three with a very long range free kick that Amos did well to bat away, but Crystal Palace weren't going to have it all their way and a red tide started flowing ominously towards Price's goal. The Championshippers had defended very well all match, and they weren't about to stop just because United were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them. McCarthy in particular was brilliant, completely shutting up shop while the hosts looked certain to score, and Zaha managed to burn several minutes with lung-busting runs down the side of the pitch despite being clearly injured.
It was enough - it was more than enough. With seconds left, Price fell onto a bouncing ball in the Palace box, booted it downfield, and listened to the away supporters go mental as Chris Foy blew his whistle. Crystal Palace advanced to the semifinals of the 2011 Carling Cup, inflicting the second home defeat in the past two seasons on Manchester United in the process. It's a day for Palace fans to celebrate.