Substitute Juan Mata came off the bench and to United’s rescue as he fired Manchester United to a hard-fought 1-0 win over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
The Spanish midfielder had only been on the field for a few minutes when his deflected strike squeezed between the Palace goalkeeper and the post, but his appearance was the ideal impact substitution on a day when United could not make superior possession count in front of goal.
Luke Shaw went close with a shot saved by Julian Speroni, and Marouane Fellaini had a header scrambled off the line, while Fraizer Campbell spurned a great chance in the first half, and Mata later went close to a second goal when he struck the post late on.
Injuries and suspensions had forced Louis van Gaal to shuffle his pack at the back once again, with Daley Blind shifting into central defence alongside the recalled Paddy McNair. Replacing the Dutchman in midfield was Michael Carrick, starting for the first time in 2014/15.
United went onto the front foot from the start, with Adnan Januzaj whipping a rasping shot over the corner of post and bar after cutting in from the right flank in only the second minute. Angel Di Maria drove a weak shot straight at Speroni, but a succession of corners from the Reds’ record signing failed to truly test his fellow countryman in the Eagles’ goal.
Carrick roamed forward from his holding position to try his luck from range with a shot deflected wide, and Wayne Rooney’s frustrated response to his own shot that soared over the goal summed up the first phase of the match. But it was the unlikely source of Shaw who stirred the match into life on 28 minutes. Moving upfield out of defence, the left-back unleashed a shot