While the inhabitants of the real world debated whether any footballer can be worth £300,000 a week, Wayne Rooney showed how much he means to Manchester United with a goal of genuine quality to confirm a first away victory in 2014 for David Moyes’s team.
After a barren five-game spell in which he had neither made nor scored a goal, Rooney moved to 209 for the club, one closer to Bobby Charlton’s United record of 249. Sir Bobby, indeed, was a spectator at Selhurst Park last night and must have shared Rooney’s delight.
It may not have been one of Rooney’s greatest goals, but it was still pretty good, a volley which speared into Julian Speroni’s net to ensure that after three matches without a win, United got their faltering Premier League season back on track. It helped them go above Everton into sixth place on goal difference.
All eyes were on Rooney as the England star began the first match of the new contract signed on Friday, attempting to silence those who cannot understand how so much money can be paid to a footballer in a time of financial austerity.
In years past this was a fixture that the Old Trafford club would almost have taken for granted, a routine victory over opponents who were rarely in the same class.
Yet such has been the south London club’s resurgence under Tony Pulis that they went into the match optimistic — if not confident — of a first win over United in 12 attempts dating from 1991.
Although United had plenty of the ball, with £37million newcomer Juan Mata pulling the strings in midfield, they found chances hard to come by in the first half. Palace lined up with two banks of four across the edge of their penalty area and defied the champions to break them down.
The visitors’ best attempts to break through usually involved Rooney. Palace’s most worrying moment of a low-key first half came after Rooney stopped play to point out to referee Michael Oliver that a coin had been thrown near him as he prepared to take a corner.
They both defused the incident by making little of it and when play resumed, Rooney nearly scored. His flag-kick bounced back to him off Robin van Persie and Rooney cut inside before chipping the ball over Speroni, only for Damien Delaney to head off the line. In the scramble that followed, Nemanja Vidic headed over the bar from close range.
If that was a let-off, it did not compare to a glaring miss from Marouane Fellaini just before the interval. The Belgian has still to convince the United faithful that he is of the required standard and did nothing to enhance his reputation when he scooped a 10-yard shot over the bar after excellent play from Mata and Van Persie had opened up the home defence. As the ball sailed into the crowd, Fellaini held his head in his hands and the Palace fans jeered. As well they might.
Rooney had produced one of the few quality moments of the first half when he burst from midfield and sent Van Persie through on goal, only for the attack to be halted by a linesman’s flag. Replays were inconclusive but Palace seemed lucky to escape.
In general, though, Pulis’s team, who were bidding for a club record fourth successive Premier League home win, held United so comfortably that they started the second period full of confidence — and took the game to Moyes’s men.
David de Gea had to tip over Joel Ward’s inswinging corner and Jason Puncheon worked a 20-yard chance which he shot straight at the goalkeeper. United looked anything but convincing, so they were grateful to take the lead from a controversial penalty.
As Patrice Evra burst on to Adnan Januzaj’s short pass, he was brought down by a clumsy tackle from Marouane Chamakh. The foul seemed to be right on the edge of the area but referee Oliver ruled it just inside and pointed to the spot.
Van Persie showed how a penalty should be taken, sending Speroni the wrong way as his powerful kick flew high into the net.
The champions still needed De Gea to pull off a brilliant full-length save to keep out Cameron Jerome’s 20-yard curler, but then came Rooney’s big moment as he gave United some much needed breathing space.
Again Evra was involved, galloping down the left before pulling back a deep cross which Rooney met with an instant volley from 16 yards, the shot soaring past Speroni’s left hand for a goal of quality.
United were close to adding a third when Van Persie, from a narrow angle on the left, thumped a shot against the bar with Speroni well beaten.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Parr; Ince (Gayle 85min), Jedinak, Ledley, Puncheon; Chamakh (Bolasie 74), Murray (Jerome 66). Subs (not used): Hennessey, Dikgacoi, Gabbidon, Bannan.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Smalling, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Fellaini (Fletcher 88), Carrick; Mata, Rooney, Januzaj (Giggs 80); Van Persie (Valencia 80). Subs (not used): Lindegaard, Hernandez, Young, Kagawa. Booked: Vidic, Giggs.- Mail On Sunday