Barclays Premier League
Manchester United vs. Crystal Palace
Venue: Old Trafford
Date: Wednesday, 20 April 2016
Kick-off: 20:00 BST
Manchester United produced a comfortable 2-0 home win against Crystal Palace on Wednesday night in preparation for this Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final.
Goals at the start of each half via Damien Delaney’s own goal and Matteo Darmian’s sweetly-struck strike gave the hosts the platform to maintain their push for a top four finish.
Palace offered very little on the night, themselves with one eye on their FA Cup last four tie this weekend, and it was Louis van Gaal’s side who take the spoils away from Old Trafford.
The recalled Darmian played an instrumental part in the opening goal, with his surging run down the left-hand side leading to his low cross inadvertently struck into his own goal by Delaney via his outstretched leg as he attempted to clear the danger.
Veteran goalkeeper Julian Speroni was a busy character, denying Juan Mata before beating away Anthony Martial’s strike from the edge of the area.
He also denied United skipper Wayne Rooney from range, with Martial’s cross causing trouble with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard lingering, as a shaky Palace defence were on the back foot.
Another powerful effort from Martial saw Speroni called into action once again, with half-time seeing United head into the interval with just a one goal lead despite their dominance.
Into the second period and Pape Souare was on-hand to clear Rooney’s goal-bound effort, but there was nothing that the Eagles could do to prevent the second goal.
It was Mata who won a corner after his effort was turned behind by Speroni, and despite the initial corner being cleared, it dropped to Darmian, who took one touch to set before unleashing an unstoppable left-footed strike that went in off the inside of the left-hand post, leaving Speroni helpless.
Not bad for a full-back, even better when you consider it was his weaker foot, with the Italian international bagging his first goal for United since his summer move from Torino.
United academy products Rashford and Lingard combined well inside the area, only for the chance to evaporate after Speroni pounced on proceedings.
With both sides turning their attention to the weekend, changes aplenty were made by both managers, as United controlled the game as the evening petered out.
There was little goalmouth action of any note in the final 20 minutes of this fixture, with United seeing themselves over the line for a third win in a week, gathering some momentum ahead of a tricky yet eagerly-anticipated cup semi-final against Everton.
This result moves United to within two points of Manchester City and one point of Arsenal, albeit with the latter having a game in hand, but the quest for Champions League qualification is far from over after tonight’s victory.
It was also an encouraging performance to match, where the game could have been put to bed by the interval, but it was much-improved from the weekend’s display against Aston Villa.
This Saturday will be United’s first trip to Wembley since the 2013 Community Shield and the first in the FA Cup since 2011.
The teatime kick-off of 5:15pm will commence proceedings down in London, where United will be aiming to reach their first final in the competition since 2007.
Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian; Lingard (Herrera 74), Schneiderlin, Mata, Rooney (Fellaini 78), Martial; Rashford (Memphis 63).
Subs: Romero, Rojo, Fosu-Mensah, Young, Herrera, Fellaini, Memphis.
Manager: Louis van Gaal
Crystal Palace: Speroni; Kelly, Mariappa, Delaney, Souare; Jedinak, Cabaye (McArthur 65); Zaha, Lee (Mutch 60), Sako; Adebayor (Wickham 75).
Subs: McCarthy, Campbell, McArthur, Wickham, Mutch, Dreher, Puncheon.
Manager: Alan Pardew