A promising debut for an 18-year-old, an exquisite freekick from a player who had looked poised to join one of United’s direct rivals throughout the summer and the first glimpse of the only significant signing to arrive in the transfer window would, normally, be enough reason to be cheerful.
Except that the 2-0 win matured against a newly-promoted side who spent the entire second half playing with 10 men after conceding a rather dubious penalty and that United barely looked to be playing with the handbrake on for large spells of the game.
However, United had to win and win they did, gifting David Moyes his first success at Old Trafford and his second clean sheet in as many home games this season, as Palace barely threatened David De Gea at all during the match, except when, midway through the first half, Gayle caught Rio Ferdinand napping and almost managed to squeeze the ball past the United keeper.
The moment everybody had waited for arrived midway through the second half as new signing Marouane Fellaini replaced Anderson after yet another abject performance from the Brazilian, who surely must be wondering to himself how he keeps getting into the side. The only plausible explanation is that David Moyes wanted to make Fellaini’s debut as easy as possible and decided to treat United fans to an hour worth of Andersonesque horror, thus paving the way for a positive debut for the former Everton man.
Fellaini looked composed after coming on and even threatened Julian Speroni with a venomous half-volley but it was the other of United’s two debutants, Adnan Januzaj, who really stole the show in his 30 minutes cameo. The 18-year-old replaced Ashley Young – more on him later – and looked extremely lively and confident, in short everything the former Villa man is not.
With ten minutes to go, the young Belgian won a freekick which Wayne Rooney converted with consummate ease, as the England striker, wearing a headband normally common on basketball courts, took another step towards restoring his reputation with the United fans – many of whom, in truth, seem to have already forgiven his antics.
A player whose antics shouldn’t be forgiven is Ashley Young who, yet again, excelled for all the wrong reasons today. The England international – let that sink in for a moment – has done nothing to suggest he should be a United player, let alone a starter, as his habit to lose the ball in key areas and poor link-up play continue to be a cause of frustration.
Granted, Young isn’t the first to walk out at Old Trafford despite clearly not being good enough to play for the club and we have had to put up with some real dross over the years, however, as bad as other players might have been, none of them resorted to systematic cheating as Young seems to be doing.
Having developed a reputation for diving, Young surpassed himself in the first half by tumbling to the ground so theatrically that no one, not even the most biased of Reds, would have thought the contact worthy of a penalty. Young was rightly booked but was again at the centre of controversy at the end of the first half when Kagisho Dikgacoi looked to have fouled him outside the box.
John Moss deemed the contact to have come inside the penalty box and sent the Palace player off, before Van Persie slotted the penalty home to give United the lead in what had been a very pedestrian first half, with United looking yet again devoid of ideas and lacking a cutting edge out wide.
The introduction of the Belgian duo improved things in the second half and David Moyes can now look his first Manchester derby with a bit more optimism.
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