Why Manchester United defeat really shouldn't have surprised me
Updated 4:47pm Wednesday 26th February 2014 in Sport
David de Gea tips over a corner under pressure from Glenn Murray but the red Devils were largely untroubled in the game. PICTURES BY EDMUND BOYDEN.
Marouane Chamakh’s mistake for United’s penalty, the decision to start Glenn Murray, the Wayne Rooney coin throwing incident and the ugly rivalry between the Eagles and Red Devils – all things which have left our Palace columnist WILL TAYLOR feeling down.
Defeat against Manchester United should never come as a surprise, even in their current sorry state.
And yet in the build-up to Saturday's 2-0 shellacking I felt a surge of optimism, an honest belief there were points on offer from the reigning Premier League champions.
The pang of disappointment and frustration which greeted the final whistle was not just an indicator of how far David Moyes' men have fallen, but just how much Tony Pulis' Palace have improved.
Once again, a resolute structure was put in place with militant rigour as players poked and prodded the wealth of talent probing our penalty area.
But this was a United team with a point to prove and thus began feverishly chipping away at our defensive barricade from the very first minute.
Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata refused to stay in their allocated positions, drifting elegantly into pockets of space which existed just long enough for them to receive the ball and spark an attack.
Further forward Adnan Januzaj and Robin van Persie offered a more direct threat, requiring the constant attention of multiple defenders, which left Palace permanently stretched at the seams.
The returning Marouane Fellaini relished going toe-to-toe with Mile Jedinak, while Michael Carrick served as a reminder we lack a midfielder capable of casually dismantling attacks before spraying passes out with accuracy and confidence.
It quickly became apparent we would have to trouble United at the other end of the pitch in order to gain anything from this match.
The arrival of Tom Ince and resurgence of Jason Puncheon offered hope of an attacking threat, especially as the rapidly-declining Rio Ferdinand was making his first start since November.
But here's where Pulis got it wrong - opting for Glenn Murray up front instead of the physical presence of Cameron Jerome or the tenacious, eager-to-impress Dwight Gayle.
Perhaps our manager thought Murray's intricate runs could outfox a disillusioned United backline, or his prolific nature might prove fruitful in the few chances which would come our way.
Regardless, it was tremendous pressure to put on such fragile shoulders not yet accustomed to the pace of Premier League.
Behind Murray, Marouane Chamakh has thrived in his new surroundings this season, playing with a charming confidence and newfound technical guile.
However, this was another game where Chamakh's defensive naivety was brutally exposed.
Three weeks after ignoring Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s goal-bound run at the Emirates, the Moroccan clumsily tripped Patrice Evra to gift United their breakthrough from the penalty spot.
Chamakh’s reluctance to shoot on sight has seen him dropped from the frontline into the hole behind the striker.
And while this has proved effective, Pulis must teach him the art of defending from the front to cut out such costly mistakes.
To compound matters, just six minutes later he carelessly gave possession away, culminating in Rooney expertly caressing the ball into the top corner.
There was an alarming inevitability about seeing Rooney’s name on the scoresheet, playing for the first time since signing his new wallet-bulging deal.
And as if he didn’t already have 300,000 reasons to impress, a few mindless supporters felt the need fuel his fire by showering him with abuse (and small change) whenever he trotted across to take a corner.
I am all for the light-hearted ribbing bellowed out in stadiums across the country, it can be incredibly witty and sung with such passion that it instantly unites an entire group of supporters.
But there is a wider issue here, spawned after the infamous antics of Eric Cantona and the death of Palace fan Paul Nixon in 1995 following a clash between two sets of supporters prior to the FA Cup semi-final of that year.
I have no problem with United supporters celebrating the career of Cantona, even if those masks look like a weird blend of Tony Blair and John Prescott, but their decision to do so seemingly only when they visit Palace seems rather crass.
Similarly, the Palace supporters who believe there are those purposefully insulting the memory of Paul Nixon, in what is sadly a widely unpublicised story of tragedy, need to consider United have endured enough tragedy of their own to even contemplate such actions.
The popularity of social media in the sporting world has only magnified a rather ugly rivalry between the two clubs, a weird hatred fuelled by ignorance which has created a toxic atmosphere in what should be a celebration of, let’s face it, a rare footballing spectacle.
But I shall move on, as must Palace who play Swansea on Sunday in a game which will hopefully kick-start a memorable run towards survival this season.
Swansea were worthy winners when they graced Selhurst Park earlier this season, but Thursday’s decisive Europa League tie in Napoli will provide a promising distraction.
It doesn't matter whether the Swans return triumphant or despondent from Italy, Palace have to take advantage of their weary legs and a European hangover.
Failure to do so may leave Palace fans reaching for the bottle ahead of a daunting run of fixtures.
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