In perhaps his best performance since re-joining Manchester United in the summer, Paul Pogba produced a goal and an assist to earn Jose Mourinho’s side a hard-fought victory.
United made a bright start to the game, enjoying plenty of possession without creating any clear-cut scoring opportunities. A brilliant burst into the area from Eric Bailly, deployed at right-back, almost resulted in a chance for Wayne Rooney, but the Ivorian’s cut back was snuffed out by the hosts.
With 10 minutes of the first half to play, Pogba, who was in particularly fine fettle, picked out Rooney inside the area with a delightful left-footed chip. The United No. 10 spun and fired a half-volley on target but Wayne Hennessey made a smart save.
Marcos Rojo was then very lucky to avoid a red card when he launched into a two-footed challenge on Wilfried Zaha. The Argentinian didn’t make any meaningful contact with the ex-United player, but there could have been no complaints if he had been sent off; instead, the referee leniently produced a only yellow card.
In the 42nd minute, Michael Carrick’s searching ball found Pogba on the left side of the penalty area. The Frenchman connected with a sweet volley on his weaker foot which again forced Hennessey into action.
United made the breakthrough in stoppage time at the end of the first period when Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s knockdown — which appeared to strike his arm — from a Rooney free-kick landed at the feet of Pogba — who was quite possibly offside — inside the six-yard box. The £89 million man’s finish from there was easy.
Alan Pardew brought Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley on for Mathieu Flamini for the second half, and the substitute sent a 20-yard strike whizzing past David de Gea’s left-hand post just seconds after his introduction.
When Eric Bailly went down injured in the 52nd minute, Mourinho took no chances and brought Matteo Darmian on for the 22-year-old former Villarreal man, who was making his first Premier League start since picking up a knee injury against Chelsea in October; the Ivorian appeared in no real discomfort when he left the field.
As United took their foot off the peddle after about an hour, James McArthur fired a shot towards the top corner of David de Gea’s goal; the Spaniard made a superb flying save to preserve the away side’s lead.
But McArthur wasn’t to be denied as he fired Palace level in the 65th minute, latching onto a superb flicked through-ball from Damien Delaney to finish beyond de Gea from eight yards out.
Rooney almost responded immediately for United, but Hennessey palmed away his curling strike from range. From the resultant corner, the Red Devils were denied an obvious penalty when Ledley clearly handled.
Juan Mata had the ball in the net from close range seconds later, but was frustrated by the linesman’s flag. Replays showed the goal should have stood. After benefitting from some dubious decisions in the first half, United were firmly on the wrong side of the officials’ poor calls at this juncture.
And that was to be Mata’s last action of the evening as he was replaced by Jesse Lingard. Marcus Rashford was given 10 minutes of action in place of Rooney soon after.
United finally regained their lead in the 87th minute, and it was the outstanding Pogba who was the architect. The Frenchman out-muscled his marker and cut inside from the left before sliding a beautiful ball through for Ibrahimovic. The big Swede still had plenty to do but he finished expertly with his left foot from a tight angle.
The Red Devils were forced to dig deep but, thanks to a moment of magic from their two marquee stars, were able to prevail.