Sunday 22 September 2019

Van Aanholt stuns United with last-gasp winner

Manchester United 1 Crystal Palace 2

Winning goal scorer Patrick van Aanholt of Crystal Palace celebrates at the end of the match. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images
Winning goal scorer Patrick van Aanholt of Crystal Palace celebrates at the end of the match. Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images

Luke Edwards

Marcus Rashford did not wait to be told what was happening by Paul Pogba this time. There was no discussion, no decision by committee. He picked up the ball, put it on the spot, breathed in, picked his spot and smashed the penalty kick against the post.

In a week dominated by the fallout from Pogba's missed penalty against Wolverhampton Wanderers, it turns out that Rashford is capable of missing them too and, sadly, he can also be racially abused on social media when he does.

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Marcus Rashford of Manchester United misses from the penalty spot. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Marcus Rashford of Manchester United misses from the penalty spot. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

So, how many designated penalty takers do Manchester United need?

There is the punchline to a joke in there somewhere, but nobody at Old Trafford is laughing because this defeat by Crystal Palace - the first time the London club have beaten United in the Premier League era - exposed more than just the old truism that anyone can miss from 12 yards.

This was an afternoon when old frustrations and lingering concerns about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side and depth of his squad re-emerged. A game that reminded everyone of familiar failings and shortcomings. United have been losing games like this for far too long.

Forget the penalty miss, as irritating as it was, and focus instead on the fact that, asked to find a way through a packed defence, United quickly lost their way, conceded a ridiculously soft goal at the end of Palace's first attack and then, having finally equalised through Daniel James with just two minutes to go, somehow managed to lose in stoppage time when Patrick van Aanholt beat David de Gea at his near post.

Daniel James of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's first goal. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Daniel James of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's first goal. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

United have been confused for too long, in recruitment and planning but also performance. This brought all of those topics back up for discussion.

After that big win over Chelsea and the encouraging draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, this defeat was the sort of early-season reality check that will realign expectations. A top-six place, rather than the top four, looks realistic. It is far from certain, though.

"We did not have enough urgency or penetration," Solskjaer said. "We made it too easy for them in the first half because we didn't have the change in tempo. We were better in the second half.

"We have to learn and we have to learn quickly. The last two games, we should have got six points, if you look at it as a neutral. We're two penalty misses away from sitting pretty with nine points, but teams will come here and defend against us, drop deep, like Palace did."

Palace came to defend, a five-man midfield retreating into their own half whenever a United defender collected possession to try to build an attack, with striker Jordan Ayew effectively turning that into a six-man unit.

Behind them, the back four guarded the edge of the penalty area.

Palace were beaten by Sheffield United the previous weekend, a limp, error-strewn display that shamed them. This was a different sort of test, an examination of a different kind and, in many ways, easier, too. Nobody expected them to win here, they did not have to go pushing for a victory.

It worked out perfectly.

"The key was the defensive discipline and we stuck to the script at all times," said Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager. "We knew if we did not seal the spaces, if we did not get back into position when we lost the possession, if we did not let them have the ball in non-threatening positions, they would punish us.

"We rode our luck a bit with their missed penalty, but we defended brilliantly. When you have been working as long as I have in the game, there are lots of little nuggets out there, but I will certainly remind myself over the next few days of the fact I'm the first Crystal Palace manager to beat Manchester United in the Premier League."

United poured forward throughout, full-backs playing as wingers, centre-backs as auxiliary midfielders. Palace fell back and absorbed it all.

Rashford might have scored early on, sent through on goal by Jesse Lingard, but as he prepared to shoot, Martin Kelly got back to make a superb recovery tackle.

Moments later, Rashford and Luke Shaw combined on the left-hand side of the area. Anthony Martial's shot was blocked but spun kindly for James, who drilled the ball back towards goal, but somehow it flicked off the heel of Van Aanholt and goalkeeper Vicente Guaita got it clear. The goal was surely coming and eventually it did - for Palace, launched by Guaita's kick. Victor Lindelof was flat-footed and did not attack the header. Jeffrey Schlupp did, running, leaping, winning. Ayew had anticipated he would and the striker finished superbly.

It was terrible defending. Old Trafford was stunned - and Palace almost scored a second immediately, only for Schlupp and Ayew to get in each other's way, the ball eventually falling for Wilfried Zaha, but the angle was tight and De Gea saved.

The second half started with another James shot blocked by Van Aanholt at the far post. Old Trafford roared but Palace held firm, Martial then fired over the bar after he had been pulled back by Kelly.

It probably should have been a penalty but Paul Tierney, the referee, said no. "I cannot believe VAR did not overturn that one. It is a stonewall penalty," Solskjaer said. His players would have probably missed it anyway.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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