Manchester United returned to winning ways in the Premier League as goals from Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney provided a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace. After having had two weeks to stew on a defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool, manager David Moyes will have been mightily relieved to have got the three points and his first win at Old Trafford since taking the reins.
While the performance still lacked sparkle for large spells, in many ways it was the perfect day for the new boss. Van Persie’s penalty gave United the lead in first-half injury time following a foul by Kagisho Dikgacoi on Ashley Young that earned the Palace man a red card. That meant that new signing Marouane Fellaini could be introduced with little pressure in the second half. The early afternoon encounter was then wrapped up as Rooney, playing despite a gash to his head that ruled him out of England duty, got his first goal since his summer transfer saga with a fine free-kick. That moment and the win were given added significance by the fact that it came in front of the watching Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time since his retirement.
Moyes will doubtless have felt some discomfort early on, however. The home side pressured in the opening stages, but the closest they could come to threatening their opponent’s goal was two overly-ambitious penalty appeals. First Patrice Evra had his claim rightly denied before Young’s flagrant effort at finding contact from a defender earned him a yellow card.
With Shinji Kagawa again not featuring, this time with flu being cited as the reason, United were not for the first time this season looking devoid of creativity. Anderson, making his first start of the campaign, was industrious but struggling to make anything happen when in possession of the ball.
After the first 35 minutes, Palace manager Ian Holloway, banished to the stands for his critical comments of officials after the newly promoted side’s opening day of the season, will have been more than pleased by the state of affairs. The packed Old Trafford crowd was subdued and beginning to get restless.
But in the final 10 minutes of the first half the match sprung to life. Twice Van Persie came close to giving United the lead. The first effort went just wide after an ambitious flick with his back to goal from a Patrice Evra cross. The second chance was reminiscent of the memorable goal the Dutchman scored in United’s title-clinching victory over Aston Villa last season. This time, though, after another sublime pass over the top from Rooney, Van Persie elected to chest down the ball and his volley struck the top of the crossbar.
At the other end, Palace almost produced a goal out of nowhere with their only real chance of the match. From a cross-field pass, Dwight Gayle’s fine first touch took the ball past the caught-out Rio Ferdinand, but, with David de Gea coming out, the summer signing from Peterborough could only dink a shot wide of the far post.
Within two minutes United were in front. Mile Jedinak brought the problem on his own side by giving the ball straight to Young on the edge of his own box and the winger took the ball past Dikgacoi, who brought him down from behind. There was little doubt this time about the contact but referee Jon Moss had to make a decision whether the initial contact had been outside the box and whether the midfielder had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity. In both cases, Palace didn’t get the rub of the green. Van Persie duly stepped up and rolled the penalty into the corner.
The subject of much criticism of late, Young was having one of his better games in recent times. And the England international came close to putting United 2-0 to the good at the start of the second half, but from Anderson’s through ball his shot was parried by Julian Speroni.
Indeed, United continued to be frustrated in their efforts to find a second goal. The introduction of Fellaini as well as his fellow Belgian Adnan Januzaj provided an extra spark and the former Everton man tested Speroni again with an effort from 25 yards.
Rooney appeared on a personal mission to get his first goal of the season. After twice failing to get a good shot away when the opportunity presented itself with nine minutes remaining, the bandaged forward struck gold from a dead ball. From a position to the left of the goal, Rooney applied bend and dip to a free-kick to take it past the despairing effort of Speroni and into the bottom corner.
Substitute Javier Hernandez missed a chance to make the final score even more comfortable, but Moyes will still be sleeping easier tonight ahead of his first foray in the Champions League proper in midweek.