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Delaney own goal sets Man United on their way to comfortable win over Palace

Elsewhere, West Ham kept their top four hopes alive with a big victory over Watford.

Matteo Darmian celebrates scoring United's second.
Matteo Darmian celebrates scoring United's second.
Image: Martin Rickett

MATTEO DARMIAN PROVED to be Manchester United’s unlikely hero as they beat Crystal Palace 2-0 on Wednesday to close to within a point of the Premier League’s top four.

The full-back’s low cross was turned into the Palace net by Damien Delaney after just four minutes and he fired in a second for Louis van Gaal’s side shortly after the break, as United recorded another straightforward home win to follow Saturday’s victory over Aston Villa.

Palace made six changes to their starting line-up ahead of their FA Cup semi-final with Watford on Sunday, and it was stand-in goalkeeper Julian Speroni – making just his second appearance of the season – who kept United at bay for much of the game.

But fine saves to deny Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard in particular proved in vain when Darmian smashed a half-volley off the right-hand post to deservedly double United’s lead, and a comeback never looked likely.

United were far more threatening than they have been in many games at Old Trafford this season, but eased through the closing stages, with one eye undoubtedly on Saturday’s trip to Wembley to face Everton.

Palace had produced some exemplary defending in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal, butDelaney handed United the advantage with an uncharacteristically poor error with just four minutes played, as he turned Darmian’s cross into his own net despite being under no pressure.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Barclays Premier League - Old Trafford It wasn't a good night for Delaney. Source: Martin Rickett

United, buoyed by a rare early goal, came close to a second as Mata tested Speroni from 20 yards, though Emmanuel Adebayor sliced a half-chance wide of the far post from a Palace break

Martial was causing plenty of problems for Martin Kelly down Palace’s right-hand side, and the 20-year-old forced Speroni into a good save with a curling effort before setting up Wayne Rooney to shoot straight at the goalkeeper.

United remained dominant but Speroni continued to thwart their chase for a second goal. He saved twice in quick succession from Marcus Rashford and Lingard before making a brilliant stop at full stretch to deny Martial, who had been allowed to run straight through the Palace defence.

Pape Souare – perhaps fortunate to escape with only a booking for a two-footed challenge on Mata – made a vital block to deny Rooney’s goal-bound effort just after half-time, and Speroni stuck out a strong hand to keep out the Spaniard’s fierce shot from point-blank range.

But Palace’s resistance was finally broken on 55 minutes. Darmian controlled 18 yards out after Daley Blind’s corner was only partly cleared and rifled the ball in left-footed off the far post on the half-volley.

Rashford burst in behind the defence and set up Lingard to make it three, but a fine double-save from a sprawling Speroni denied them from adding some gloss to the scoreline to match United’s total control.

Manchester United v Crystal Palace - Barclays Premier League - Old Trafford United are just a point behind Arsenal. Source: Martin Rickett

Van Gaal withdrew captain Rooney, Lingard and Rashford as United eased through the game in front of a reasonably sparse Old Trafford crowd, who were nonetheless delighted with their side’s third win in a row, which puts pressure on fourth-placed Arsenal, who host West Brom on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Heurelho Gomes was beaten by two spot-kicks as FA Cup semi-finalists Watford suffered a 3-1  defeat to West Ham at Upton Park.

Gomes saved two penalties from West Brom’s Saido Berahino on Saturday, but was unable to keep out Mark Noble’s two efforts from 12 yards, which came after Andy Carroll’s sixth goal in five top-flight games.

Quique Sanchez Flores’ men face Crystal Palace at Wembley this weekend and the Spaniard made seven changes on Wednesday, with the hosts taking full advantage to keep alive their top-four hopes.


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Carroll’s 11th-minute volley set the tone, with Noble’s first coming just before the break. The midfielder doubled his tally eight minutes into a second half that saw Sebastian Prodl score an excellent consolation goal, Troy Deeney miss a late penalty and Nordin Amrabat receive an injury-time red card.

The result helped to assuage some of the pain of West Ham’s last outing on home soil, when their own FA Cup dream was ended by Man United, moving them four points shy of fourth-placed Arsenal.

West Ham United v Watford - Barclays Premier League - Upton Park Carroll and Noble were on the mark for the Hammers. Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

It also snapped a run of five consecutive league draws for the hosts, who were held by leaders Leicester City last time out following the controversial award of a last-gasp penalty.

For Watford, finishing in the top half remains a realistic prospect, despite a run of just one win in eight league games.

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