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RvP, Rooney silence United critics
Robin van Persie scored from the penalty spot and Wayne Rooney volleyed in to lead Manchester United to a precious 2-0 win over Crystal Palace. The result preserved United’s fading hopes of UEFA Champions League football next season, but they will still need help from other teams if they are to overtake Tottenham and Liverpool.
The result is unlikely to end the lingering questions that surround David Moyes and this team. Palace are one of the poorest teams in the league and for long spells, United looked no better despite dominating possession. They look largely devoid of ideas or extra gears, and it wasn’t until Palace started to tire -- and gaps opened -- that United’s efforts began to pay off.
In truth, until van Persie’s goal from the spot, neither team looked much like scoring. A drab first half punctuated by errors gave little indication that either team would be able to snatch a result. United looked pedestrian in possession, with Juan Mata particularly poor, and only Rooney really looked as if he wanted to score. Mata, stranded out wide right, was rarely able to influence the proceedings and frequently looked out of sync with his teammate. As a result, van Persie was simply starved for service, rarely involved in a game that, on paper, he should have bossed.
United made all the chances in the first half, albeit at both ends. Nemanja Vidic was gifted a free header after Damien Delaney headed a ball off the line from Rooney straight up in the air, but the defender headed over the bar and into the Homesdale Road stand. Then, Chris Smalling created Palace’s best chance when Scott Dann’s shot caromed off him and nearly beat David de Gea at the near post.
But the half’s futility was best summed up by a tragic miss from Marouane Fellaini. After doing all the work to set the chance up with a fine ball out to Mata, Fellaini saw a blocked shot fall kindly to him with time and space. He didn’t get it close to the frame, hacking it almost to the corner flag. It was an unfortunate moment in an otherwise decent performance from the much-maligned Belgian. As the game wore on, he improved, while some of his teammates simply disappeared.
After the restart, Rooney started dropping back on the pitch in an effort to spark his team. It worked: on the hour mark, he created the buildup that led to the spot-kick. With a cross-field ball, he picked out the young Adnan Januzaj wide left who in turn found Patrice Evra storming towards the area. Marouane Chamakh committed a classic striker’s foul on the back, bringing him down in a heap. Referee Michael Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Chamakh had no complaints. Van Persie sent keeper Julian Speroni the wrong way, and that effectively ended the game.
Rooney, who is coming off a career week that saw him made the highest paid player in the British game, would add the insurance just eight minutes later, again in concert with Evra. Evra was again allowed to run at the end-line, and when he spun back, he smashed his pass off Joe Ledley, sitting the ball up sweetly for Rooney to volley it home.
Job done in the end, but United still look a callow bunch, unable to shift on the fly, and when confronted with an organized team -- which Palace were not -- the Red Devils have struggled. Of course, this is a game that United should by rights win all the time -- but so deflated are they this season that there was the expectation around a sold-out Selhurst Park that Palace had the power to inflict further humiliation on the Manchester giants. It’s telling that after van Persie scored, the team celebrated wildly. The pressure on this side is so intense, so smothering, that you have to suspect that that weight on them is one of their gravest hardships.
United now face a very winnable European tie up next against Olympiakos. Should they be able to get past a Greek side that can be either very organized or completely scattershot, they may be able to spark themselves into a run of late form, and save what has been a dreadful season. Maybe.
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