Crystal Palace 0 Manchester United 2 match report: Wayne Rooney seals the deal by blasting United back into the top-four race
England striker celebrates his new contract with the second goal in a comfortable victory
From the right boot of the best-paid player in English football, a goal that is simply invaluable for David Moyes. The new contract of Wayne Rooney does not guarantee the kind of strike he blasted past Julian Speroni here, but Manchester United will hope they come as standard for a while yet.
A first victory in four Premier League games for Moyes takes United up to sixth place and, for once, the pressure on the manager subsides somewhat. It was not like it was easy on him, with a wait until the hour for Robin van Persie to make the breakthrough with a penalty but, when Rooney added the second eight minutes later, Moyes could begin to plan the end of the game with the Champions' League tie on Tuesday in mind.
As for Rooney, it was a nice way to start his lucrative new era at the club. That deal, which could be worth as much as £300,000 a week, comes with its attendant pressure although it is nothing he has not experienced before. It is one goal closer to the club record of 249, held by Sir Bobby Charlton, who was also at Selhurst Park. For one day at least, they were back feeling like the United they once were.
It looked like the best team Moyes had at his disposal. Granted, there was a first start for Rio Ferdinand since the draw against Cardiff City on 24 November, which suggests a change in Moyes' thinking. But three days before they play the first leg of their last-16 tie against Olympiakos, there was no compromise.
In midfield, Marouane Fellaini made his first start since 4 December. He had the best chance of the first half when a move the Belgian initiated down United's right moved the ball from Van Persie to Juan Mata and then back to Fellaini with a good sight of goal. With his left foot he contrived to lift the ball over the bar and Moyes turned away in despair.
That came at the end of a first half in which United had laboured in predictable fashion. All the big stars were on the pitch, including the newly minted Rooney who found himself showered with coins and other items when he was obliged to take corners on the left side in front of the Holmesdale Stand's most excitable occupants. It was not the first time this week someone has thrown money at him. On the coin throwing, Moyes said: "I don't think it would bother Wayne at all. I'm sure all those people will be cheering him on in four months' time [at the World Cup]."
Sadly for Moyes, his big guns struggled early on to break down a Tony Pulis side that, before this game, had not lost at Selhurst Park since 21 December. They defended well, but there was never any sense that the pressure which United brought to bear became too much for them before the break. Damien Delaney headed a Rooney cross off the line on 26 minutes after the initial corner from the left had been cleared. From close range, Nemanja Vidic conspired to head the loose ball over the bar.
Adnan Januzaj, who has ditched his choirboy haircut for something much sharper and grown-up, had the ball in the net on 17 minutes but put up little protest when it was disallowed for handball. All in all, United looked lopsided. There was no right winger unless one counted full-back Chris Smalling and Mata, who was nominally there in the starting line-up. The one occasion that he was asked to drive down the goal-line in the manner of a winger, he simply ran the ball out of play.
The rest of the time, Mata stole into central positions to try to pick up the ball and get United going.
The problem for Moyes was that by the end of the first half, Van Persie and Rooney were trying to do exactly the same. On the left side, Januzaj threatened in moments but with no similar presence on the other side there was no way of stretching Palace.
Pulis' side struggled to make inroads at the other end. There was a header from Marouane Chamakh on target but the closest that David De Gea came to conceding was when Smalling deflected a cross at his near post. The United goalkeeper was equal to it. Nevertheless, Palace looked like they could trouble United from set-pieces.
If anything, Palace had their best period in the 15 minutes before United scored. There was pressure on the away goal and a slip by Vidic that forced him to pull down Glenn Murray and take a booking.
No question about the penalty which was conceded by Chamakh on a rare sortie into his own area to dispossess Patrice Evra.
From the penalty spot, Van Persie was assured. Pulis sent on Cameron Jerome immediately and he forced a good save from De Gea low to his left. United's second, eight minutes after the first, took the pressure off. There was an Evra cut-back to Rooney and his right-foot shot was as sweet as they come.
Van Persie struck the bar after a break down the left on 70 minutes. Otherwise the Rooney goal gave Moyes the chance to rest Van Persie and Januzaj with substitutions later in the game. United's first win of the month could not have come soon enough for their manager.
"I thought we played well, I thought we passed it well and there were some really good performances," Moyes said. "With Wayne's goal, when he hasn't got time to think he does things naturally, he's got all that natural talent."
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Parr; Ince (Gayle, 85), Jedinak, Ledley, Puncheon; Chamakh (Bolasie, 72), Murray (Jerome, 65).
Manchester Utd (4-4-2): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Mata, Fellaini (Fletcher, 87), Carrick, Januzaj (Giggs, 80); Van Persie (Valencia, 80), Rooney.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Man of the match: Rooney (Manchester Utd)
Match rating: 7/10
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