Nemanja Matic’s 12th-minute effort proved to be Manchester United’s only shot on target as a limp 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace left them 14 points off leaders Manchester City.
United dropped points for the seventh time in their last 10 Premier League games and never put up any real fight to earn three points in south London, with Palace, who had mustered only six shots in their previous two games, twice going close to a shock win.
After Matic’s early piledriver was turned behind by a full-stretch Vicente Guaita save, United stuttered throughout and were made to worry when Andros Townsend’s volley flew just past Dean Henderson’s far post after half-time.
Late on, after Luke Shaw and Mason Greenwood had both missed opportunities, Patrick Van Aanholt – scorer of Palace’s injury-time winner at Old Trafford in 2019 – was denied another winning contribution by Henderson’s legs.
But even gaining that point for United leaves their title challenge as good as over with a trip to leaders City, live on Sky Sports, to follow this weekend.
Poor United labour to dour draw
Crystal Palace had never recorded a league double over Manchester United, so after a shock result in their opening-weekend win at Old Trafford, there was a chance to make history at Selhurst Park.
The hosts began on the front foot, but failed to turn that into an early shot – not that an absence of chances had stopped them picking up four points from their last two games. And once United began to assert their quality in possession, they stood firm.
Matic’s deflected drive forced Guaita into a finger-tip stop and Rashford fired a low effort wide from the edge of the area, but beyond those opportunities the hosts were largely untroubled, as United failed to click into gear in the final third.
The first half proved so uneventful Andre Marriner opted against adding any injury time, and a managerial team-talk failed to spark any sort of life into the visitors, even knowing what was at stake in what remains of the title race.
Instead, Townsend’s well-struck volley bounced past Henderson’s post after United failed to clear a free-kick, and Andre Ayew tested the goalkeeper from a tight angle from Christian Benteke’s tee-up.
Substitute Dan James would have proved an unlikely matchwinner had his 5ft 7ins frame directed Shaw’s cross goalwards, but his glancing header was cleared behind by Gary Cahill as United offered a rare moment of concern.
Two more followed in the dying minutes, with Greenwood and Shaw both firing wide from good positions, before Luka Milivojevic’s through-ball released Van Aanholt, who was denied by Henderson’s smart stop when clean through.
Defeat would have been harsh on United in a balanced game but not undeserved, given their lack of intensity, but even a point does little for their hopes at the top – and again fails to put distance between themselves and third-placed Leicester.
Both teams are back on television this weekend with a pair of tasty cross-city derbies as part of Super Sunday live on Sky Sports Premier League.
First off, Manchester United visit Manchester City from 4pm; Kick-off at 4.30pm. Following that game, Crystal Palace’s trip to Tottenham will follow from 7pm; Kick-off at 7.15pm.