A late strike from Zlatan Ibrahimovic gave Manchester United a vital victory over Crystal Palace on Wednesday evening, as the Reds ran out 2-1 winners at Selhurst Park.
The Swede fired home with just two minutes of normal time remaining to secure the three points, after James McArthur had cancelled out Paul Pogba’s first-half opener.
Ahead of the game – United’s third in the space of six days – Jose Mourinho delivered on his promise to rotate players during a busy December, making four changes to the side that beat Tottenham.
Wayne Rooney was among those recalled to the starting line-up, and the captain had an early opportunity to break the deadlock, but couldn’t direct his header on target from Juan Mata’s cross after five minutes.
In truth, the hosts were hardly afforded a touch of the ball during the opening stages, with an eventual string of passes being greeted by cheers from the home fans. As has been the theme in recent weeks, Mourinho’s men were well on top, and went close again when Pogba curled a long-range effort over the bar.
Last-ditch defending then denied Rooney a clear goalscoring chance on 24 minutes, as Eric Bailly – slotting in at right-back in the absence of the suspended Antonio Valencia – burst forward from defence to provide an inviting low cross.
Bailly was involved again in a similar situation on the half-hour mark, this time picking out Rooney successfully. The Reds skipper looked for Ibrahimovic with a first-time pass, but the ball just skipped away from the Swedish striker. At the other end, Palace’s first real attack of note came via former United man Wilfried Zaha, who twisted and turned to find space on the left, but couldn’t pick out a team-mate with his delivery.
United were then denied twice in quick succession by Wayne Hennessey, as the Palace keeper firstly thwarted Rooney and then Pogba, who had both found space well inside the area. With just seconds remaining before the break, the Reds’ patience finally paid off, as Ibrahimovic chested Mata’s free-kick into Pogba’s path, allowing the Frenchman the easiest of finishes from six yards.