Crystal Palace 1-2 Man United: What do the Eagles only do against the big boys?
Manchester United overcame a threatening Palace comeback and yet more injury problems to collect three points and take a major stride toward the Champions League. The visitors started with neither Angel di Maria (injured) nor Robin van Persie (virus) but with plenty of ball – and in the 19th minute, they killed two albatrosses with one stone.
Given a penalty after Scott Dann leant into Ashley Young's cross, United ended both their 306-minute barren run and their poor penalty return with Juan Mata's calm pass into the bottom corner.
United dominated the first-half stats with 66.2% possession and 212 completed passes to Palace's 79, although fewer the half the passes were forward – and yet more injuries were hampering the visitors.
Caught smack in the mush by James McArthur's innocently flailing elbow, Luke Shaw was stretchered off and replaced by Jonny Evans - meaning a reshuffle with Phil Jones moving to left-back – while Rooney, limping for much of the game, was replaced after a half-time fitness test by Falcao; the Colombian's blank return made it 16 games without a goal for United.
Alan Pardew's half-time change was unforced but sensible, bringing on Jason Puncheon for Joe Ledley, with McArthur dropping back and Yannick Bolasie moving up front alongside the muscular Glenn Murray.
Palace had a couple of early penalty appeals, with Mata looking suspiciously like he upended Puncheon but the Palace sub making up referee Michael Oliver's mind by going down as if harpooned.
However, the Croydon-born winger made up for it three minutes later with the equaliser – although once again United helped in their own downfall. Puncheon's free-kick from just outside the corner of the box was on target but also heading for the wall, when Daley Blind – apparently partially unsighted – slightly ducked and deflected the ball past David de Gea.
That gave Palace just over half an hour to chase the win, and they certainly set about it: from the 45th to the 75th minute, the hosts had 6 shots to their visitors' 2, including a close-range Murray effort brilliantly saved by De Gea. But on 78, Speroni flapped at Young's lobbed cross and Marouane Fellaini nodded home.
Palace continued to press on but couldn't level again. The closest they came was with five minutes to go when Murray's intelligent take-down and turn produced a shot which De Gea once more thwarted, on this occasion with his knee. The Spaniard had once again helped his side to victory, with notable support from Young, who has now been involved in four of United's last six goals.
United will be confirmed in the Champions League places tomorrow unless Liverpool, now seven points back, win at Chelsea. Meanwhile Louis van Gaal will hope to put pressure on Manchester City and Arsenal, both two points above United, for the top-three slots which avoid the qualifying round – but he will know he needs to continue the rebuilding job, especially if that man De Gea leaves in the summer.
Manchester United have won 12 and lost 0 of the last 14 league meetings with Crystal Palace.
United have lost just 2 of their last 23 Premier League away games in London (W13 D8 L2); both losses were against Chelsea.
Crystal Palace's 3 direct free-kick goals this season have come against Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Juan Mata had missed his preceding 3 penalties in English football (all competitions) before netting his spot-kick in this game.
Ashley Young has provided as many Premier League assists in 2014/15 (4) as he did in the preceding two seasons combined.
Palace attempted more shots (10) than United (8), excluding blocked shots.
Alan Pardew is the first Palace manager to lose 3 straight Premier League home games since Iain Dowie in August/September 2004.