Crystal Palace 0 Manchester United 2
Manchester United’s Anglo-French strike connection of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have sent the Reds into a nail-biting two-match conclusion to the Premier League campaign, after grabbing a goal apiece in a 2-0 win at Crystal Palace.
Before the Reds kicked off at Selhurst Park, our rivals for a top-four place Leicester City had beaten Sheffield United 2-0 to throw down the gauntlet to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side.
United answered it with a victory by the same scoreline to keep level with the Foxes on points and remain just one behind Chelsea as the trio battle for the remaining two Champions League berths.
We had to survive a close VAR decision when Palace thought they’d equalised early in the second half and also when the home side claimed in vain for a penalty in the first period.
However, it was the clinical Reds duo of Rashford and Martial, now with 44 goals between them this season, who had the crucial final say.
Captured in Croydon Gallery
These are the best photos from United's important Premier League win over Crystal Palace in south London.
Having had the wind slightly taken out of the restart sails with that late Southampton equaliser on Monday night at Old Trafford, United started a shade uncomfortably and unconvincingly against Palace.
Considering the Eagles had lost their previous five matches, they began on the front foot and asked the Reds a few searching questions.
As early as the second minute, one-time United player Wilfred Zaha turned inside his former Palace team-mate Aaron Wan-Bissaka and struck a shot that David De Gea needed to get two good hands on to push away the danger.
Reds captain Harry Maguire managed to pose a threat at the other end with a couple of headers from corner kicks. The first one caught him by surprise and it flew wide but seconds later, he headed one just over the bar.
Our recent thrust and fluency wasn’t too evident and although Palace’s early menace had been quelled, the Reds were struggling to get going.
An Aaron Wan-Bissaka blocked shot and an unusually miscued Mason Greenwood attempt wasn’t a lot to show for the first half-hour’s work.
Maguire had to be looked at by United’s medics following a head injury after 32 minutes but he was able to continue. And once more it was our skipper, showing no ill effects from his painful collision, who looked the most likely to break the deadlock of a dour game when six minutes later he met another corner kick, from Bruno Fernandes, but steered his header just over again.
De Gea, who'd only had that early stop to make, was called upon just before half-time to save from Palace's leading scorer Jordan Ayew. Then the hosts had a shout for a penalty ignored by referee Graham Scott when Zaha and Victor Lindelof tumbled in the area.
Just when it looked the game was meandering goalless to half-time, Rashford came up with a beautiful opener.
Portuguese maestro Bruno Fernandes, who else, unlocked the door with a pass into the striker's feet, and Rashford brilliantly sent Palace’s keeper and two defenders one way with a dummied shot before switching the ball to his right boot to pass home his 22nd goal of the campaign.
After such a dull first half, the ending to the 45 minutes was a contrast to the rest of the proceedings, with United’s opening goal and then Luka Milivojevic drawing out a spectacular De Gea save with a free-kick aimed for the top left corner.
United were cursing when it appeared that Ayew put the ball in the net after 55 minutes, from Zaha's low bullet cross.
As the post mortems were about to start in the Reds' defence, VAR stepped in and after an anxious wait it ruled that the Palace hitman was a fraction offside and the goal was scrubbed out. Much to our relief.
The disappointment didn’t disturb Palace’s early second-half dominance and once again De Gea's safe hands were needed when James McCarthy let fly with a long range shot.
Solskjaer made his first changes soon after to whip the Reds up and Jesse Lingard came on for Greenwood and Nemanja Matic replaced McTominay.
The game was treading water somewhat and the Reds needed a second strike to ensure there wouldn’t be more late drama and Fernandes thought he’d given the Reds that much-needed breathing space in the 74th minute.
At the end of a sweeping and killer United move that tore Palace apart, the Portuguese fired goalwards but his shot came back off the post. However, it wasn’t long before we did double our advantage.
Four minutes after his effort hit the woodwork, Fernandes played a great ball to Rashford who, in turn, steered it first time into Martial’s path. There was only going to be one result as the Frenchman pulled back his right foot. United were 2-0 up at last and, like Rashford before him, it was a 22nd goal of the term for Martial.
To ensure there'd be no tense climax, De Gea pulled off another great save to deny Zaha as the game stretched into 11 minutes of added-on time due to the treatment given to Palace left-back Patrick van Aanholt for a nasty injury he picked up attempting to stop Martial's goal.
United: De Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire (C), Fosu-Mensah, McTominay (Matic 63), Pogba, Greenwood (Lingard 63), Fernandes, Rashford, Martial.
Subs not used: Romero, Bailly, Dalot, Fred, James, Mata, Ighalo.
Goals: Rashford (45+1), Martial (78)
Palace: Guaita, Ward, Sakho, Dann, van Aanholt (Mitchell 84), Milivojevic (C), McCarthy (Riedewald 84), McArthur (Schlupp 72), Zaha, Townsend, Ayew.
Subs not used: Hennessey, Kelly, Woods, Kouyate, Meyer, Pierrick.
Referee: Graham Scott
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