[Premier League] Crystal Palace 0-2 Manchester United
ManUtd: Robin van Persie (pen.62), Wayne Rooney (68)
Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney struck within six minutes of each other in the second half to hand Manchester United victory over Crystal Palace.
The Dutchman's penalty was quickly followed by an unstoppable volley from his strike partner to break down the resilient hosts, and the goals were a relief for the Reds after spells of persistent possession play had failed to reap rewards.
Palace soaked up waves of United pressure in the first half, with Rooney's curling effort from the edge of the box headed away from under his crossbar by Damien Delaney, while Nemanja Vidic headed the rebound just over. David De Gea was largely untested but he was alert enough to parry away a deflection off Chris Smalling, while Marouane Fellaini wasted an opportunity just before the break when the Belgian, back in the side for the first time since 4 December, shot wide after a neat touch from Juan Mata.
Palace went on the attack early in the second half, but the game changed on 62 minutes when a clumsy challenge by Eagles striker Marouane Chamakh on Patrice Evra on the edge of the box resulted in a penalty that van Persie clinically despatched. A curling shot from Cameron Jerome drew a save from De Gea low to his left, and this proved to be vital shortly afterwards when Evra cut the ball back to Rooney, who lashed in a superb volley from just inside the area.
Van Persie struck the bar as United strived to kill the game off, and De Gea was in action again when he denied Yannick Bolasie, but United saw the game out comfortably to claim three points and move into sixth place.
The match While United dominated the first half but had nothing to show for it, Palace asserted themselves in the early part of the second only for their hard work to be completely undone by Marouane Chamakh's clumsy challenge on Patrice Evra. The resulting goal from the penalty spot changed the momentum of the match, and although the hosts tested David De Gea a couple of times, Wayne Rooney’s brilliantly executed volley clipped the Eagles' wings for good. Prior to the penalty, United just lacked that crucial cutting edge given all the Reds' possession, which would have become more of a worry had Chamakh's error not stifled Palace’s growing confidence. United ruthlessly exploited the mistake to full effect.
The goals After some high-profile penalty misses in north London in the Champions League on Wednesday, Robin van Persie showed how it should be done south of the river Thames by sending Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni the wrong way to clinically despatch the ball into the right corner. It was soon followed by Rooney's volley, a masterclass of its own, with technique, balance and power giving the home side's stopper absolutely no chance.
Star men Just 24 hours after his new contract was announced, Rooney demonstrated exactly why he will be so important to the club in the years to come. His dominant, forceful performance set the tempo for the Reds from the off, but van Persie seized the moment when it came to turn the game decisively in his side's favour. Patrice Evra will rarely hit the headlines like Wayne or Robin, but the Frenchman had a hand in both goals, and in defence he dealt with Palace's threat in typically effective fashion.
Sub-plot The match saw Rooney, van Persie, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj start a match together for the first time. What kind of formation would utilise this attacking quartet was an intriguing question, one that was answered by Januzaj sticking to the left flank, while Mata had the freedom to roam across the pitch. Chris Smalling had the licence to make several forays down the wing from right-back but did not deliver the telling final ball, while Marouane Fellaini played further forward than he did before a two-month absence.
The opposition Sides managed by Tony Pulis are traditionally disciplined, well-organised and energetic, and Palace were no exception to that rule. Soaking up United's pressure to frustrate was the plan, but Tom Ince was a threat when the home side did get onto the front foot. Van Persie's penalty prompted a spirited response, but there was no answer to the crushing blow of the second goal.
Move of the match In the first half a lengthy spell of possession ended with van Persie flipping the ball over to Januzaj, who smartly despatched the ball past Speroni – but the goal was chalked off after the ball appeared to be controlled by his arm, with no complaints at all from United.
In the stands The Reds fans who made the lengthy journey to the outskirts of south London gave their side typically vocal backing, while some of the home supporters gave Rooney a hard time at a couple of corners in the first half.