Saturday 16 December 2017

United make light work of feeble Palace

Manchester United 4 Crystal Palace 0

Romelu Lukaku joins the celebration as Marouane Fellaini scores his side's third goal. Photo: Getty Images
Romelu Lukaku joins the celebration as Marouane Fellaini scores his side's third goal. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Wilson

The only good news for Roy Hodgson was that his second visit to Manchester in a week did not result in another 5-0 scoreline. It could have done, but Manchester United were not exactly going flat out here. There was simply no need. That is the bad news for stricken Crystal Palace. There is so much of it, it is hard to know where to start.

Probably the third minute, by which time United had taken the lead and the visiting manager was already staring glassy-eyed into space in the manner perfected with England last summer. A sublime turn by Marcus Rashford on the left wing had sent Joel Ward so far in the wrong direction the Palace full-back practically had to pay to get back in; left free to cut in along the goal-line the England forward had the time and composure to look up and find Juan Mata waiting near the penalty spot for a goal to mark his 200th Premier League appearance.

Romelu Lukaku scores his side's fourth goal. Photo: Getty Images
Romelu Lukaku scores his side's fourth goal. Photo: Getty Images

The game went a bit flat after such a sparkling start, with Palace doing their damage limitation work well and keeping two disciplined defensive lines behind the ball. It took United half an hour to find a way through, and when they did the danger again came from the left. This time it was Ashley Young in an advanced position, easily avoiding Andros Townsend's token resistance to send over a cross to the far post, where Marouane Fellaini was able to sweep in a close-range volley.

Palace made it to the interval without further mishap, yet in the 10 first-half minutes that remained after Fellaini's goal United could easily have doubled their lead. Rashford struck a post, but the passage of play that best summed up the task ahead of Hodgson came a couple of minutes earlier, when Townsend needlessly conceded a corner because he could not find a team-mate to help him out, and Chris Smalling missed the target at the far post with a free header from Mata's cross.

All Palace had managed by way of attack in the first period was a shot from stand-in striker Bakary Sako that David de Gea beat away.

Hodgson's second half began as badly as his first, with whatever he had said to his players in the dressing room rendered irrelevant by the free-kick Rashford arrowed into the area for Fellaini to score his second with a header on the six-yard line. Wayne Hennessey had to get down low to stop Young adding a fourth minutes later, after Palace had dozily allowed the left-back to arrive unchallenged in the area to accept a short corner.

Jose Mourinho and Roy Hodgson shake hands after the match. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho and Roy Hodgson shake hands after the match. Photo: Getty Images

Any semblance of a contest over, the only questions that remained as the game went into its final half-hour were whether Palace might manage their first goal of the season and whether Romelu Lukaku could equal a United record by scoring a seventh goal in his first seven league games. One of those possibilities seemed much more likely than the other, but Lukaku seemed to have missed his big chance when the ball broke to him off Jesse Lingard, putting a low shot the wrong side of a post with the goal gaping.

But Lukaku was not to be denied, netting when Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial presented him with an unmissable chance four minutes from time.

United ended the day level on points with City after scoring four for a fourth time this season, while pointless and goalless Palace must sit out the international break on the bottom with Chelsea to come when Premier League fixtures resume. "We're Crystal Palace, we score when we want," was the defiant chant from the travelling supporters. If only it were true.

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