Boosted by debutant Juan Mata and the return of Robin van Persie, Manchester United got back to winning ways in the Premier League with a 2-0 victory over Cardiff City at Old Trafford. Van Persie, back after more than six weeks out with a groin injury, opened the scoring with a header in just the sixth minute. Ashley Young, having created the opener, then scored the second with a fine strike from distance in the 59th minute to all but seal the three points.
As a whole, the performance was again far from convincing, but the greater threat provided in the final third by Van Persie and Mata and the confidence that the Spaniard’s arrival appeared to provide his teammates was enough to get the better of the Premier League’s bottom club.
As they often have of late, despite their poor results, United got off to a quick start. On this occasion, with Mata adding the creativity and Van Persie providing a cutting edge up front, they got something tangible to show for their positive early efforts.
Mata was involved at the move’s conception, hitting a long cross-field pass out to Patrice Evra on the left. From there the ball was quickly exchanged and Ashley Young curled in a fine cross that Antonio Valencia headed against the crossbar and, although David Marshall kept out the first rebound from Van Persie he couldn’t do anything about the Dutchman’s second header.
That might have been expected to produce a commanding performance from the home side. But like so often this campaign, they failed to build on their encouragement. Young should have done better when sliding in at the back post from Mata’s excellent in-swinging cross, but Cardiff were increasingly allowed to grow into the contest.
Still, the lack of a cutting edge that has blighted Cardiff throughout this season and that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has tried to address with the signing earlier in the day of Kenwyne Jones was in full evidence. Ultimately it was not a happy return to the Theatre of Dreams for the former Manchester United striker.
United’s current most lethal finisher, Van Persie, missed a chance to further his team’s advantage when he dragged a shot wide from a tight angle before the break.
The start of the second half brought more uncertain play from United and further nerves from the Old Trafford crowd. There was a mixture of both relief and jubilation then when Young received Mata’s pass and cut in from the left, breezing past one listless challenge, before taking full advantage of the space afforded him with a superb shot that bent away from Marshall into the corner of the net.
There is still much work to be done, but Moyes, who also welcomed back Wayne Rooney off the bench, will be delighted to get a winning start to what he hopes will be the true beginning of his Old Trafford reign.