Manchester United moved a big step closer to qualifying for the Champions League with a 2-1 win away ay Crystal Palace on Saturday. It was rather a smash-and-grab raid from Louis van Gaal's side, who were on the back foot for the majority of an end-to-end second half.
It took United eight minutes to draw the first save from Palace keeper Julián Speroni and less than 20 to break the deadlock. The opener came when a low cross by Ashley Young was blocked by the arm of Scott Dann, giving Juan Mata the honour of slotting the visitors ahead with a smart penalty.
However, it certainly wasn't a dominant performance from United, with Palace growing into the game as the clock ticked on. By halftime, the Reds were a little fortunate to be ahead. Mile Jedinak headed a corner just wide and a couple of chances almost broke for striker Glenn Murray, while Yannick Bolasie caused Antonio Valencia myriad problems out on the left.
Making matters even more uncomfortable for United was the loss of Luke Shaw to yet another injury five minutes before the whistle, when he took a James McArthur elbow full to the face. He was replaced by Jonny Evans, with Phil Jones pushed out to an unusual left-back spot.
The second half started with Radamel Falcao thrown on in place of Wayne Rooney, who seemed to have picked up a slight knock, though the Colombian barely saw any of the ball in the opening exchanges.
That's because Palace were looking ever more dangerous, and began to seize control of the midfield. Halftime substitute Jason Puncheon added some much-needed dynamism, and produced a fine free-kick equaliser just short of the hour. It wasn't a goal that covered Daley Blind in glory, with the Dutchman shirking his duties in the defensive wall by ducking to avoid being hit.
Palace almost took the lead just minutes later, though McArthur poked his shot wide from the edge of the box. The Eagles went perilously close again when Murray found space in the box with 20 minutes left, though David de Gea made a brilliant save to deny Glenn Murray from point-blank range. United looked rattled, and Palace were on top.
However, the game began to open out as it drew to a close, with Palace leaving themselves ever more exposed at the back. That allowed United to deliver a sucker-punch on the counter-attack with just over 10 minutes left, when a deep cross by Ashley Young was headed home by Marouane Fellaini in the middle of the area.
Palace were down but still not out, and de Gea was called into action again inside the final five minutes to block a Murray effort on the turn. Happily, that was the last real action of a breathless second half. An entertaining game, absolutely; a convincing victory, absolutely not.