Manchester United ended a run of three successive defeats without a goal by claiming a massive three points in the quest towards Champions League football at Selhurst Park on Saturday evening. Juan Mata ended United’s recent penalty hoodoo and Marouane Fellaini capitalised on a defensive mix-up to nod the winner, with a deflected Jason Puncheon free-kick sandwiched in between.
United did not do it the easy way, coming under intense pressure in spells in the second half. There was a composure in the first half, Daley Blind came close with his long range effort hitting the post via Speroni. The promising start was rewarded when Ashley Young’s cross was handled by Scott Dann. Referee Michael Oliver had no doubts and awarded the penalty- the second in successive games. Penalty duties were left to Juan Mata, after Rooney and Van Persie were relinquished from the responsibility after their recent misses. Speroni dived the right way but the penalty evaded his clutches and United had their first goal for over five hours.
The first half was spoiled by injuries to Luke Shaw, whose injury luck is not subsiding, and captain Wayne Rooney, replaced by Jonny Evans, returning after his six game spitting ban, and Radamel Falcao respectively.
Palace came out of the blocks in the second half, pressing United further up the field and exploiting Yannick Bolasie’s running power against a struggling Antonio Valencia. Jason Puncheon’s introduction off the bench gave Palace some impetus too and it was his free-kick that leveled the scores. Much will rightly be made of Daley Blind’s antics on the end of the ball, appearing to turn his head and obstruct his own vision as his deflection sent it past an outstretched David De Gea.
Palace at this stage had all the momentum, De Gea’s heroics superbly denied Glenn Murray on two occasions, one with a strong right hand as he bore down on goal and one with his legs in somewhat unorthodox fashion from a turn and volley.
United benefited from a stroke of good fortune as Ashley Young’s cross evaded Speroni to leave Fellaini with the simplest of headers into the unguarded net. It appeared that Falcao had pushed Damien Delaney into the Palace keeper but it went unpunished and unseen by Michael Oliver. United had got out of jail.
Chris Smalling went off in the dying embers to be replaced by Paddy McNair, which could leave Louis Van Gaal with another defensive injury crisis.
This was a massive three points for United, leaving all the pressure on Liverpool to win at Stamford Bridge otherwise the race for the top 4 is over.
Over to you, Liverpool.