Matteo Darmian proved to be Manchester United’s unlikely hero as they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 on Wednesday to close to within a point of the Premier League’s top four.
The full-back’s low cross was turned into the Palace net by Damien Delaney after just four minutes and he fired in a second for Louis van Gaal’s side shortly after the break, as United recorded another straightforward home win to follow Saturday’s victory over Aston Villa.
Palace made six changes to their starting line-up ahead of their FA Cup semi-final with Watford on Sunday, and it was stand-in goalkeeper Julian Speroni – making just his second appearance of the season – who kept United at bay for much of the game.
But fine saves to deny Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard in particular proved in vain when Darmian smashed a half-volley off the right-hand post to deservedly double United’s lead, and a comeback never looked likely.
United were far more threatening than they have been in many games at Old Trafford this season, but eased through the closing stages, with one eye undoubtedly on Saturday’s trip to Wembley to face Everton.
Palace had produced some exemplary defending in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal, but Delaney handed United the advantage with an uncharacteristically poor error with just four minutes played, as he turned Darmian’s cross into his own net despite being under no pressure.
United, buoyed by a rare early goal, came close to a second as Mata tested Speroni from 20 yards, though Emmanuel Adebayor sliced a half-chance wide of the far post from a Palace break.
Martial was causing plenty of problems for Martin Kelly down Palace’s right-hand side, and the 20-year-old forced Speroni into a good save with a curling effort before setting up Wayne Rooney to shoot straight at the goalkeeper.
United remained dominant but Speroni continued to thwart their chase for a second goal. He saved twice in quick succession from Marcus Rashford and Lingard before making a brilliant stop at full stretch to deny Martial, who had been allowed to run straight through the Palace defence.
Pape Souare – perhaps fortunate to escape with only a booking for a two-footed challenge on Mata – made a vital block to deny Rooney’s goal-bound effort just after half-time, and Speroni stuck out a strong hand to keep out the Spaniard’s fierce shot from point-blank range.
But Palace’s resistance was finally broken on 55 minutes. Darmian controlled 18 yards out after Daley Blind’s corner was only partly cleared and rifled the ball in left-footed off the far post on the half-volley.
Rashford burst in behind the defence and set up Lingard to make it three, but a fine double-save from a sprawling Speroni denied them from adding some gloss to the scoreline to match United’s total control.
Van Gaal withdrew captain Rooney, Lingard and Rashford as United eased through the game in front of a reasonably sparse Old Trafford crowd, who were nonetheless delighted with their side’s third win in a row, which puts pressure on fourth-placed Arsenal, who host West Brom on Thursday.
Key Opta stats:
– Manchester United have never lost to Crystal Palace in the Barclays Premier League (W11 D3).
– Three of the six own goals for Crystal Palace since returning to top-flight in 2013 have been scored by Damien Delaney.
– Only Martin Skrtel (5) has scored more own goals in that time than the Palace defender (3).
– Manchester United have benefitted from more own goals in Premier League history than any other side (66).
– The Eagles have failed to score in 11 of their 14 Premier League games against Manchester United and six of seven at Old Trafford.
– Manchester United have won their last nine home league matches against Crystal Palace.
– Palace are winless in their last nine Premier League away matches (W0 D5 L4) since their last win on the road back on December 19th 2015 at Stoke City.