Fel­laini shat­ters poor Palace

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER - PAUL WIL­SON

Manch­ester Utd 4 Crys­tal Palace 0

THE only good news for Roy Hodg­son was that his sec­ond visit to Manch­ester in a week did not re­sult in an­other 5-0 score­line. It could have done, but Manch­ester United were not exactly going flat out here. There was sim­ply no need. That is the bad news for stricken Crys­tal Palace. There is so much of it it is hard to know where to start.

Prob­a­bly the third minute, by which time Manch­ester United had taken the lead and the vis­it­ing man­ager was al­ready star­ing glassy-eyed into space in the man­ner per­fected with Eng­land last sum­mer. A sub­lime turn by Mar­cus Rash­ford on the left wing had sent Joel Ward so far in the wrong di­rec­tion the Palace full-back practically had to pay to get back in, and left free to cut in along the goal line the Eng­land for­ward had the time and com­po­sure to look up and find Juan Mata wait­ing near the penalty spot for a goal to mark his 200th Pre­mier League ap­pear­ance.

In truth, the game went a bit flat after such a sparkling start, with Palace do­ing their dam­age lim­i­ta­tion work well and keeping two dis­ci­plined de­fen­sive lines behind the ball. It took United half an hour to find a way through, though when they did the dan­ger again came from the left. This time it was Ash­ley Young in an ad­vanced po­si­tion, eas­ily avoid­ing An­dros Townsend’s to­ken re­sis­tance to send over a cross to the far post, where Marouane Fel­laini was able to sweep in a close-range vol­ley.

Palace made it to the in­ter­val with­out fur­ther mishap, yet in the 10 first half min­utes that re­mained after Fel­laini’s goal United could eas­ily have dou­bled their lead. Rash­ford struck a post just be­fore the break, but the pas­sage of play that best summed up the task ahead of Hodg­son came a cou­ple of min­utes ear­lier, when Townsend need­lessly con­ceded a cor­ner be­cause he could not find a team­mate to help him out, and Chris Smalling missed the tar­get at the far post with a free header from Mata’s cross.

All Palace had managed by way of at­tack in the first pe­riod was a shot from stand-in striker Bakary Sako that David de Gea beat away, though it was sig­nif­i­cant that even when United made mis­takes at the back, such as the clear­ance from the goal­keeper that went straight to Jef­frey Schlupp, their op­po­nents were too timid to take ad­van­tage.

Hodg­son’s sec­ond half be­gan as badly as his first, with what­ever he had said to his play­ers in the dress­ing room ren­dered ir­rel­e­vant by the free-kick Rash­ford ar­rowed into the area for Fel­laini to score his sec­ond with a header on the six-yard line. Wayne Hen­nessey had to get down low to stop Young adding a fourth min­utes later, after Palace had dozily al­lowed the left-back to ar­rive un­chal­lenged in the area to ac­cept a short cor­ner.

Any sem­blance of a con­test over, the only ques­tions that re­mained as the game went into its final half-hour were whether Palace might man­age their first goal of the season and whether Romelu Lukaku could break Louis Saha’s record by scor­ing in each of his first seven league games. One of those pos­si­bil­i­ties seemed much more likely than the other, but Lukaku seemed to have missed his big chance when the ball broke to him off Jesse Lin­gard, putting a low shot the wrong side of a post with the crowd so con­fi­dent of his fin­ish­ing prow­ess a goal was al­ready be­ing ac­claimed.

That left Palace a window of op­por­tu­nity, but though Townsend went close with a free-kick from a long way out, it was not that close, and Lukaku had the last laugh when An­der Her­rera and An­thony Mar­tial pre­sented him with an un­miss­able chance four min­utes from time.

United climb to the top of the table after scor­ing four for a fourth time this season, while point­less and goal­less Palace must sit out the in­ter­na­tional break on the bot­tom with Chelsea to come when Pre­mier League fix­tures re­sume. “We’re Crys­tal Palace, we score when we want,” was the de­fi­ant chant from the trav­el­ling sup­port­ers. If only it were true.

Marouane Fel­laini can­not hide his de­light after scor­ing his sec­ond goal of the af­ter­noon against Crys­tal Palace

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