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PA Wire/Press Association Images Juan Mata celebrates his goal at Carrow Road.
# to the fore
Mata strike keeps United in hunt for Champions League spot, sinks Canaries closer to relegation
Louis van Gaal’s side are now just one point behind Manchester City in the race for fourth spot in the Premier League.

JUAN MATA SCORED the only goal of the game as Manchester United kept their Champions League aspirations intact with a 1-0 win at Norwich City, who slipped closer towards Premier League relegation.

United started Saturday four points adrift of rivals Manchester City in the race for the top four.

Louis van Gaal decided to leave out forward Marcus Rashford and defender Daley Blind. Anthony Martial, the hero of United’s FA Cup semi-final win over Everton, suffered an injury in the warm-up and was replaced by Ander Herrera.

Matteo Darmian was also forced to make way due to injury in the opening stages and United’s lack of quality in the final third was evident throughout much of an uninspiring contest.

But Mata netted what proved to be the decisive goal in the 72nd minute, meeting Wayne Rooney’s lay-off with a composed strike beyond John Ruddy.

Norwich never looked like finding an equaliser and remain two points adrift of safety with Newcastle United and Sunderland facing Aston Villa and Chelsea respectively later in the day.

With United missing their most dangerous attacking threats, it was Norwich who enjoyed the better of the early going and went close to taking the lead inside four minutes.

Cameron Jerome met Nathan Redmond’s well-placed cross from the left but was unable to get any direction on his header, with David De Gea reacting well to keep the ball out with his legs.

United’s hopes were dealt a further blow in the 12th minute when Darmian collided with Ivo Pinto. The former Torino defender received lengthy treatment and was replaced by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson before being carried to the tunnel on a stretcher.

Chances proved few and far between in a low-key first half, although Chris Smalling perhaps should have done better in the 29th minute, the England centre-back heading narrowly over from Mata’s corner.

The visitors were the slightly superior side after the restart but both teams continued to struggle to sustain much in the way of pressure.

Herrera fired into the side-netting from Mata’s clever lofted pass and Smalling was unable to get on the end of a flick on from Marcos Rojo as United laboured in search of an opener.

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Norwich had thrown on Dieumerci Mbokani as they looked to break the deadlock but Mata finally did so 18 minutes from time, although the goal owed much to Sebastien Bassong’s error.

Rooney showed no hesitation in pouncing on Bassong’s failure to clear a long ball, surging down the right and smartly holding the ball up for the onrushing Mata, who netted his fifth goal against Norwich with a simple finish.

Morgan Schneiderlin shot wide late on but his profligacy was not punished as United held on with little difficulty.

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