Fellaini shatters poor Palace
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