Wayne Rooney celebrated the signing of his new contract with a fine goal as Manchester United won 2-0 at Crystal Palace on Saturday at Selhurst Park to pull within eight points of the Premier League's top four.
Robin van Persie put Manchester United in front with a 62nd-minute penalty. Rooney, fresh from signing a lucrative new contract this week, doubled the lead six minutes later with a volley.
The victory put United on 45 points, eight behind fourth-placed Liverpool, who host Swansea City on Sunday. Palace, meanwhile, remain entrenched in the relegation fight. Currently in 15th place with 26 points, Eagles are two points above the drop zone.
"Today was a big result for us," Rooney said, per ManUtd.com. "We haven't played in 10 days so it was an important game. It was a good victory, I thought we played well and moved the ball well. It was a good win."
Following his side's previous Premier League result, a scoreless draw at Arsenal on Feb. 12, United manager David Moyes insisted a top-four finish is still possible.
"If there's one club in history that's been great at winning games in the second half of the season, putting pressure on other clubs, it's been Manchester United," Moyes said at the time, per Sam Wallace of The Independent. "We'll continue to try to do that and see if we can make it work."
The top-four quest will have to wait an extra week, however, with the Red Devils not playing again in the Premier League until Mar. 8, at West Bromwich Albion. First, Moyes' side will try to stay alive in Europe. On Tuesday, United will travel to Greece to face Olympiakos in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.
For United's visit, Palace manager Tony Pulis made two changes to the side that beat West Brom back on Feb. 8. Jonathan Parr and Glenn Murray came into the starting XI, replacing Kagisho Dikgacoi and Yannick Bolasie.
Moyes made three changes for United, bringing in Rio Ferdinand, Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj for Rafael, Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia.
Chances were sparse for both sides in the early minutes. Murray had an attempt for Palace blocked in the second minute, and Januzaj shot off target for United five minutes later.
United had the ball in the net in the 17th minute via a fine finish by Adnan Januzaj, but referee Michael Oliver correctly ruled out the goal for a handball by Januzaj.
The visitors came close in the 26th minute, when Nemanja Vidic headed over the bar from close range after Palace failed to properly clear a corner. Three minutes before half-time, Rooney curled a shot straight at Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni from the edge of the box.
United had their best chance of the half one minute later, when Fellaini had a clear sight of goal inside the box, but the Belgian shot high and wide. Rooney then missed the target with a free kick in stoppage time, and the score remained 0-0 heading into half-time.
After the restart, Palace created multiple chances in quick succession.
Tom Ince volleyed over the bar in the 49th minute, and Jason Puncheon shot at David De Gea moments later from Murray's headed pass.
But for all the hosts' momentum, they were undone soon after when United won a penalty and converted it for the breakthrough goal. Palace's Marouane Chamakh fouled Patrice Evra just inside the penalty area on the hour mark, and after a delay in which Evra received treatment, van Persie confidently lashed home the spot-kick for a 1-0 United lead in the 62nd minute.
Pulis responded by introducing substitute Cameron Jerome in the 66th minute, and Jermone nearly made an instant impact one minute later. Receiving a pass along the edge of the box with his back to goal, Jerome created space for himself before curling a shot toward the bottom corner. De Gea saved well at the back post, low and to his left.
United took advantage within moments.
At the other end, Evra dribbled to the byline on the left before pulling back for Rooney. With time and space in the middle of the box, Rooney whipped a first-time volley into the net off Speroni's hand for a 2-0 lead in the 68th minute.
United were suddenly flying, and van Persie hit the crossbar following a swift counter in the 71st minute. Palace weren't finished yet, though, and Bolasie—who had entered as a second-half substitute—forced a save from De Gea with a low drive in the 78th minute.
But the hosts were unable to find the net, and with the match won, United introduced Valencia, Ryan Giggs and Darrent Fletcher as substitutes in the closing minutes.
|Crystal Palace Player Ratings vs. Man United|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
|Manchester United Player Ratings vs. Crystal Palace|
|David De Gea||8.4|
|Robin van Persie||7.5|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
Manchester United play at Olympiakos on Tuesday in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie. The Red Devils return to the Premier League with a match at West Brom on Mar. 8.
Crystal Palace play at Swansea City next Sunday.