Matteo Darmian leads Manchester United to comfortable victory
Matteo Darmian's stunning strike helped Manchester United maintain their top-four push as fellow FA Cup semi-finalists Crystal Palace were swatted aside.
The pair could do battle once again on May 21 if they navigate their way through this weekend's Wembley encounters - matches that offer both teams the chance to end frustrating seasons with a shot at silverware.
Palace's seven changes showed how much of Alan Pardew's focus was on their semi-final against Watford and led to an unsurprising outcome at Old Trafford, where United triumphed 2-0 as Darmian created one and scored the other.
The Italy international has struggled at times during his maiden season in English football but made an impressive impact on Wednesday, with his fourth-minute cross forcing Damien Delaney to turn past his own goalkeeper.
Julian Speroni could not prevent the own goal but did well to keep the score respectable on his first Palace appearance of the season, with Darmian needing to produce a moment of magic to beat him in the second half.
The stunning left-footed strike hit the post on its way in, wrapping up a win that sees United move within a point of the Champions League places.
A tough night looked to be on its way for the south Londoners as soon as the teams were announced, with that outcome bearing fruit just moments into the match.
Darmian broke free down the left and sent in a cross that Delaney connected with, directing it low and hard past Speroni.
Juan Mata tried his luck with a low drive and Anthony Martial forced an acrobatic save as United attacked with unusual panache, before Wayne Rooney stung the palms of in-form Speroni.
A wayward Emmanuel Adebayor shot was the only chance of note Palace could muster during a half in which the majority of play was at the other end, with Delaney almost turning another cross into his own goal.
Referee Lee Mason missed that touch, and a potential handball, but the Eagles' goal was soon under threat again, with Marcus Rashford forcing a save out of Speroni before intelligently leaving the ball for Jesse Lingard to have a shot.
The Argentinian goalkeeper's performance belied that of a player reduced to a watching brief this term and he did well to deny Martial before the break, which Palace were fortunate to go into with 11 men after a nasty Pape Souare challenge.
The full-back escaped with a booking for his lunge on Mata and made an impact moments after the break to block a Rooney effort from the edge of the box.
Impressive pressing from Rashford resulted in Mata getting in a shot Speroni did well to tip wide, but the Palace goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Darmian opening his United account in style.
The full-back controlled a clearance and hit an exquisite strike from the edge of the box that went in off the post.
It was an impressive goal that Rooney tried to add to with dipping effort, before Lingard and Rashford were then denied by Speroni in quick succession.
Substitute Memphis Depay saw a shot deflected as the match petered out, with Darmian dragging an effort wide as he looked to add extra gloss to the scoreline.
TWEET OF THE MATCH
"Smalling on Darmian's super strike: "It was a surprise for us, especially with his left foot! What a way to get your first goal."" - Manchester United's official account gives Chris Smalling's reaction to Matteo Darmian first goal for the club.
David de Gea: 6 (out of 10)
Antonio Valencia: 6
Chris Smalling: 6
Daley Blind: 6
Matteo Darmian: 7
Morgan Schneiderlin: 6
Jesse Lingard: 6
Wayne Rooney: 7
Juan Mata: 7
Anthony Martial: 7
Marcus Rashford: 7
Memphis Depay: 6
Ander Herrera: 6
Marouane Fellaini: 6
Julian Speroni: 8
Martin Kelly: 5
Adrian Mariappa: 5
Damien Delaney: 4
Pape Souare: 4
Yohan Cabaye: 5
Mile Jedinak: 5
Wilfried Zaha: 5
Lee Chung-yong: 5
Bakary Sako: 5
Emmanuel Adebayor: 4
Jordon Mutch: 5
James McArthur: 5
Connor Wickham: 5
Julian Speroni. The 36-year-old Crystal Palace goalkeeper made a big impression having been brought into the team for his first appearance of the season, pulling off a series good saves.
MOMENT OF THE MATCH
Darmian's goal. The full-back broke his Manchester United duck in fine style, controlling the ball with his chest before lashing it in off the post from the edge of the box.
VIEW FROM THE BENCH
United boss Louis van Gaal will be satisfied at seeing his side get the job - keeping up the push for a place in the Barclays Premier League top four - done here in very comfortable fashion only three days out from the FA Cup semi-final clash with Everton.
Palace's last-four meeting with Watford comes a day later, and they seemed very much preoccupied by thoughts of that here - although you would imagine a fair few of those on display will not make Alan Pardew's team for Wembley.
MOAN OF THE MATCH
Palace defender Pape Souare made a wild-looking challenge on Juan Mata just prior to the interval and appeared fortunate to only be shown a yellow card by referee Lee Mason.
WHO'S UP NEXT?
Everton v Manchester United (FA Cup semi-final, Saturday, April 23)
Crystal Palace v Watford (FA Cup semi-final, Sunday, April 24)