Review by Richard Foster (Twitter: @rcfoster)
A late winner by a club from Manchester – just when some of us were foolish enough to believe a respectable draw was on the cards, following a great equaliser. Instead a 2-1 defeat heaped more pressure on the manager, as 2016 continues to yield more heartache than victories. We have been here before – just a month ago – but this time instead of City, it was United inflicting the damage. The match itself was more memorable due to all three officials making terrible errors at critical moments, affecting both sides.
Blaming the referee for a bad decision gets you nowhere, and there were plenty of other reasons why Palace lost. Not least there was the rash challenge by Martin Kelly on Danny Blind, as the first half meandered to its conclusion. This led to the free-kick which was bundled home by (an offside) Paul Pogba, after being nudged on by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s arm. The key issue is that Kelly should never have attempted that challenge, as Blind was going away from goal and was not posing a threat. Frustratingly the United goal was the last action of the half.
Pogba and Ibrahimovic also linked up in a much more convincing manner right at the end of the second half. The Swede was played in by the world’s most expensive player, and expertly clipped the ball over Wayne Hennessey and into the net via the far post.
Moments earlier James McArthur had been replaced by Frazier Campbell – a bold move that backfired and ended up looking foolhardy. Arguably McArthur had been Palace’s best player, with a typically energetic display. Not to mention scoring his goal with confidence, after a penetrating Joel Ward run and the deftest of flicks from Damien Delaney.
The game’s outstanding player however was Michael Carrick, who ran the midfield and simply glided through the game, sitting deep and feeding the ball forwards, prompting most of United’s attacks. The Palace midfield of McArthur, Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Flamini did a reasonably good job of keeping United at bay in the first half, until that moment of madness from Kelly. Speaking of moments of madness – Marcos Rojo’s two-footed tackle on Wilfried Zaha was at least reckless and at most, very dangerous. The fact that Rojo had got away with a similar challenge not long ago against Everton suggests he is not aware of the potential damage he could cause, while referees seem oblivious to the fact that these are red card offences.
In the end there was an air of inevitability in the late winner. United had been dominant in the last twenty minutes, and Hennessey had made several good saves. He had also been fortunate when Juan Mata was ruled offside – another decision that did not stand up to scrutiny later. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the match was the lack of pressure on the United goal, with Christian Benteke subdued and Zaha not shining against his former club. With Chelsea next up at Selhurst Park, things are not getting any easier.