Ole Gunnar Solskjær takes his side into Sunday's Manchester derby surely knowing he has to concede the title race to their bitter city rivals. No news there, but a second successive goalless draw has turned a potential battle for the top into an increasingly fragile place in the Premier League's top four.
Most of the chasing pack have at least a game in hand over second placed United and they are only a bad result or two away from slipping out of the Champions League places.
It could have been so much worse but for a last-minute point-blank save from stand-in goalkeeper Dean Henderson extending United's unbeaten away run to 21 matches. But this was a match United were expected to win and show a reaction to another relatively luck lustre display in Sunday's goalless draw at Chelsea.
Palace are solid but no world beaters and they rarely looked in trouble.
Indeed, the big problem for Roy Hodgson's side this season has been creating chances and scoring goals, but they had enough to win the match. United were nearly caught off guard by a punch Palace star and the Londoners could have had three in the opening 15 minutes.
That is not to say it was all one way traffic as the fit-again Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Marcus Rashford and Fred could just as easily have scored for United.
The pick of the bunch ended in a great save by Palace keeper Vicente Guiata. Matic cracked a trademark 20-yard shot which took a deflection off the recalled James McCarthy and was destined for the top corner before Guiata tipped it over.
That would have been a harsh return to action from injury for midfielder McCarthy, a player Hodgson has tipped to be a star man for the remainder of the season and possibly resume international duties in Stephen Kenny's squad. That, however, will also depend on how quickly he recovers from the hour or so he managed before being slowly walking off to be replaced Jairo Riedewald.
That Matic effort also represented a change in the nature of the match as United began to pass and move with more confidence. They had ridden their luck with some early Palace attacks which ended in Christian Benteke volleying over the bar and Gary Cahill so nearly converting a dangerous Andros Townsend free-kick.
But do not let the attacking stats deceive anyone into thinking this was a game high on quality or incident. These are two clubs who are deeply steeped in the art of counter attacking football and there was never enough for either side to feed off in that respect.
Both teams looked sluggish, marred by the malaise impacting many a Premier league match between tired over-played (over-paid if you insist!) players. The English game has been identified by its high-tempo sometimes frenzied action in recent years, but not this season. Not for most teams.
Of course the lack of fanatical supporters which always made this fixture a thrilling occasion under the midweek floodlights had an impact on the intensity. That is not a reference to the infamous Eric Cantona kung fu kick on Palace fan Matthew Simmons after his red card here 26 years ago, but a comment on how some noisy fans might have injected some urgency into the match.
Whether or not they could have helped blow away the South London fog is another matter, as wintry conditions returned after the weekend's Spring-like weather.
And it should also be clear the onus was on United to make the running to cement their top four ambitions and if they really believe City are remotely catchable at the top.
There was also the question of professional pride, six months on from when Palace went to Old Trafford and won 3-1 in a shock early season result. Not many teams do the double over United and Palace had never done it – ever!
Solskjaer tried to inject some life into his side with four changes to the United side that played out an uneventful goalless draw at nearby Chelsea on Sunday. One change was enforced with Henderson making his third league start to cover for David de Gea, who was absent to attend to family matters.
That Henderson was seeing more of the ball than Cavani at the start of the second half too told a story.
Only with the clock counting down and Daniel James and Scott McTominay on the pitch did United show any urgency late on at a time when the fog was so dense only the luminous shirts of the match officials, the goalkeepers and some garish boots really stood out.
United mustered only one more effort in the form of a Mason Greenwood shot over the bar and it was followed by Henderson's excellent stop as he kept out Patrick van Aanholt at the death.
Guaita 7, Ward 7, Kouyate 6, Cahill 6, van Aanholt 7, Milivojevic 6, McCarthy 6(Riedewald 63), Townsend 7, Eze 6 (Schlupp 84), Ayew 6, Benteke 5. Subs: Butland, Dann, Mateta, Wickham, Batshuayi, Kelly, Hannam.
Henderson 7; Wan-Bissaka 6, Maguire 6, Bailly 6, Shaw 7; Matic 6, Fred 5 (McTominay 74); Greenwood 5, Fernandes 6, Rashford 5; Cavani 5 (James 76). Subs: Grant, Lindelof, Diallo, Telles, Williams, Tuanzebe, Shoretire.
Andre Marriner 6.