The Reds secured a routine victory over an unimpressive Crystal Palace side via a penalty from Robin Van Persie and a goal from Wayne Rooney in a drab performance from a United side whose play was often laboured and predictable against opposition that shut the door and, in disappointing contrast with Ian Holloway teams in the past, looked distinctly unwilling to come out and play.
In some respects this game could be said to have been the true start of the David Moyes era, with his first major signing Fellaini impressing after coming off the bench and with the introduction of Januzaj showing Moyes’ intention to give the young Belgian opportunities wherever possible this season, as indicated in the manager’s programme notes. Enthusiasm for both of their performances ought to be tempered by the quality of the opposition and the fact that Palace were also down to ten men by this point, Dikgacoi having been given a straight red for a professional foul on Young that led to United’s first goal just before half-time.
While the Palace player had done his best to add unwelcome tension to the occasion by taking an age to leave the pitch, Van Persie was unfazed and dispatched the ball unfussily into the Palace net. The goal came six minutes after United had belatedly identified the dodgy hinge on that closed door of a Palace defence. Before that, we relied too often on long ball out towards Young on the left, who rarely did anything with them and United, while dominant, were far too stale and predictable in the build-up. It was Rooney who showed the way after 39 minutes, with a sublime pass that found Van Persie between the flat-footed central defenders and from which RVP struck a powerful shot against the crossbar.
It was from a similar position that United secured the lead, Young drifting into a central position to be upended by Dikgacoi with the result that United went into the break with a lead we deserved but had only barely done enough to earn.
Any thoughts that, against ten man opposition, United would cruise to a big victory were put on hold when the second half began pretty much as sluggishly as the first. Only when Fellaini arrived to rapturous applause just after half an hour did the Reds step up a gear, but even then poor finishing kept the scoreline down to the two goal margin that was established when Rooney scored placed his free kick, won after intelligent play from Januzaj down the left, just inside Speroni’s near post.
Palace fans sang ‘2-0 to the referee’, with reference not just to the penalty decision – the foul had occurred right on the edge of the box – but also to the far more ridiculous call for a Palace free kick just prior to the foul on Januzaj that led to United’s second. This ignored the huge call for a penalty that was denied United for what seemed a clear foul on Evra in the first ten minutes. Palace fans, and their manager, have already regularly resorted this season to claims of poor treatment from officials when their real problems are blindingly obvious: despite the battling qualities, they clearly lack the quality to compete at this level and I’d be surprised if they survived the drop.
For United, Fellaini made a bright start to his United career, falling in alongside Carrick and showing comfort on the ball along with some incisive forward passes and a shot from just outside the box that Speroni scrambled wide. Januzaj similarly made a promising contribution to the game and their superiority over the players they replaced – Anderson and Young – was undeniable. With Valencia again struggling for form and an eager Zaha waiting on the bench, there is clearly now a healthy competition for places in vital areas of the field, and surely some tantalising selection options for Moyes to ponder over the next few weeks.