Manchester United downs Crystal Palace on substitute Mata's goal
MANCHESTER, England Juan Mata came on as a substitute to score in the 67th minute and give Manchester United a much-needed 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Saturday.
Just four minutes after coming on for Adnan Januzaj, the United midfielder curled a deflected shot past Julian Speroni to hand Louis van Gaal's team its first win in four matches. It was another lackluster display, however, and United's expensively assembled attacking lineup struggled to crack open the visitors' defense for large parts of the match.
Luke Shaw tested Julian Speroni with a low shot and Marouane Fellaini had a header cleared off the line, but United offered little else going forward.
Fraizer Campbell wasted a great chance to score for Palace against his old team in the first half, and United hung on for a rare clean sheet that lifted it up to a provisional fifth place.
The hosts enjoyed plenty of possession, but Neil Warnock's defense dropped deep and United barely entered the away box.
At the other end, United's defense had a predictably chaotic look to it.
With four center backs out through injury or suspension, Daley Blind and Paddy McNair started and the early signs were not too good. Campbell made just two appearances during his five-year spell at Old Trafford, but he was causing problems for United's center back pairing.
His best chance came when Joel Ward lumped a simple ball long. Blind and McNair both tried and failed to clear, which meant Campbell was through on goal but the striker panicked and snatched at his opportunity, which flew over David de Gea's bar.
"We had a great opportunity to put them under pressure with the chance we had for Frazier, but it wasn't to be today," Warnock said.
With United still struggling after the break, Van Gaal looked to Mata to make the difference and he put United ahead shortly after his introduction.
Mata exchanged passes with Angel Di Maria and fired a curling shot past Speroni, which the Palace goalkeeper should have done better to keep out.
Mata also struck the post on a counterattack and Robin van Persie wasted the follow-up, blazing high and wide, but one goal proved enough.