Romelu Lukaku steps up to the plate for Solskjær and Man United
Belgian striker scores two goals as injury-hit side win at Crystal Palace
Romelu Lukaku scores his and Manchester United’s second goal during the premier League game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Photograph: Ian Walton/Reuters
Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 3
Ole Gunnar Solskjær had demanded that Romelu Lukaku or Alexis Sánchez step up to answer an injury crisis at Manchester United and it was the former who shone on a tense night in south London, scoring his first goals in 10 appearances to put his team in control.
Crystal Palace set up the grandstand finale when Joel Ward reduced the deficit with a fine header but it was United who closed out a deserved victory that maintained their push for a top-four finish and Solskjær’s extraordinary record since beginning his caretaker tenure. It is now nine Premier League wins and two draws from 11 matches.
Lukaku was involved in the third goal too, combining with Paul Pogba before the latter played in Ashley Young, who angled home a powerful drive. Palace have never beaten United in the Premier League and they have now tried and failed on 20 occasions. This was a 16th defeat.
United’s injury problems deprived Solskjær of eight senior players, although not quite a ninth, with Marcus Rashford appearing as a substitute. Pogba was the only first-choice selection in Solskjær’s starting midfield and attack but the manager could call upon players of the calibre of Lukaku and Sánchez. There was a good deal of focus on them, together with the midfielder Fred, who made his first appearance since early January.
Much had been made of United’s form under Solskjær but Palace entered this fixture on a run of four league games without defeat. Their tails were up, in particular, after Saturday’s 4-1 win at Leicester.
Lukaku would have dreamed of a clear early chance to steady the nerves, and it came when he darted on to Luke Shaw’s corner. The Palace defence underwent a complete breakdown with their marking and suddenly there was Lukaku, all alone and centrally placed, about eight yards out. On his left foot, he blazed over. It was a horrible moment.
The mark of a top centre forward is a refusal to allow the misses to blur the focus when the next chance comes and Lukaku would show this quality when he gave United the lead just after the half-hour. It was a more difficult opportunity, set up when Shaw drove in from the left, held off Jeffrey Schlupp and popped the ball square. Lukaku took one touch to set himself before steering a low right-foot shot into the far corner from just inside the area.
Solskjær had started Diogo Dalot as a makeshift right winger, with Ashley Young behind him, and the thought occurred that he might have done so in order to counter Wilfried Zaha, the one-time United winger who was Alex Ferguson’s final signing.
Zaha advertised his quicksilver threat with his first involvement – a lovely turn and sprint for a return ball – and would continue to thrill with his uncommon mixture of dazzling footwork and upper-body strength.
But it was Palace’s other winger, Andros Townsend, who had the sightings of goal in the first half, while immediately after Lukaku’s breakthrough, Schlupp stretched to reach a Townsend cross but could not direct his header on target.
It was a let-off for United, as Townsend’s miss on 11 minutes had been. James McArthur turned Scott McTominay one way and then the other before crossing and, from the corner of the six yard box, Townsend lifted over. He also fizzed a low drive past the far post in the 27th minute following good work from Zaha.
United tightened their grip at the start of the second half and after Pogba had headed off-target when well placed following Dalot’s surge and cross, Lukaku scored his second.
It was not a goal that Roy Hodgson will enjoy seeing again given that United won not one but two headers inside the area following Young’s corner, firstly through Chris Smalling and then Victor Lindelöf. Lukaku latched on to the loose ball and once it had bounced he readjusted his body to hook it into the far corner with his left foot.
Fred’s evening was something of a mixed bag – he struggled in the first half – while Sánchez rarely got going. He went to ground on more than one occasion to the irritation of the home support and also got himself booked.
Palace had fought from the first whistle and they fashioned a lifeline when Zaha dispossessed Young and sent the ball into the middle. The move appeared to have broken down only for Schlupp to burst towards the byline and cross for Ward, who scored his first of the season with a diving header at the far post. The home crowd sensed a dramatic turnaround but Young would make the points save for United. – Guardian