Crystal Palace 1 Man United 2: Ashley Young’s popular – or more correctly unpopular – image is that of a player who dives to ground rather than rising to a challenge, but there is no denying the determination of a man who has transformed his own and Manchester United’s fortunes over the past year.
A year ago today Young was an unused substitute as United drew their final game of the season to miss out on European football for the first time in 19 years. He also missed out on the World Cup, having been jettisoned by Roy Hodgson during England’s qualifying campaign.
But having spent a year watching international and European football on television rather than from the field of play, he is full of optimism once again.
Did you know?
Ashley Young has provided as many Premier League assists in 2014/15 (4), as he did in his previous two seasons combined (Opta).
Young’s man-of-the-match performance at Selhurst Park on Saturday helped United end a run of three successive defeats and leaves them six points clear of Liverpool, all but confirming a Champions League place next season.
Young admitted: “We said at the start of the season that a club of United’s stature and size needs to be in the Champions League. You watch the games on television and get tingles because you want to be involved. We’ve always said we want to get back into the Champions League.”
He also hopes to be playing rather than watching when England travel to Dublin for a friendly with Ireland and then to Slovenia for a Euro 2016 qualifier next month. Young won the last of his 30 caps against Ukraine 20 months ago, but is in the sort of form that would justify his inclusion once again.
“I’ve said all along I’d love to get myself back in the England squad, but I just want to concentrate on what is going on at Manchester United, keep putting in good performances, and wait and see what happens.”
He certainly did that against Palace in a game that had little spark until the 19th minute, when Young’s cross was handled by Scott Dann for a controversial penalty that was put away by Juan Mata.
Luke Shaw’s head injury and a dead leg for Wayne Rooney meant Van Gaal had to reshuffle for the second half, and Palace’s own substitute Jason Puncheon equalised with a deflected free-kick in the 57th minute. But Young, who had tormented Palace full-back Joel Ward all afternoon, made the fnal decisive move in the 78th minutes when he crossed for Marouane Fellaini to head United’s winning goal.
While happy to take the plaudits, Young stressed it was a team effort. “I was delighted with my performance but it’s a team game and I wouldn’t be able to play as well as I can without my teammates. We showed that team spirit when it got tough in the second half.
“We said before the game there was no way we would leave without three points. It was so important to get back to winning ways after the past few games, where we played well but didn’t get the points” He will need the same determination when Memphis Depay arrives, the Dutch winger having become Van Gaal’s first summer signing. He will compete directly with Young, who said: “It’s fantastic for the club to sign new players and it’s great to have competition for places. It keeps everyone giving 110 per cent every day in training and in every game we play.”
He also knows how important it is for United to hold on to Real Madrid target David De Gea, who kept them in the game again, with one brilliant close-range save from Glenn Murray the pick of several good stops.
“He was fantastic today,” said Young.
“I’ve said all season he has been brilliant, and has been player of the season for me. He kept us in this game with a great point-blank save from Glenn Murray at 1-1, and that spurred us on to get the three points.
“I rate him very highly. Right now I don’t think there is a better keeper out there. He’s been brilliant for us from the day he joined.”
Now that Palace are safe, Alan Pardew can use their final two two games to assess some youngsters.
“Now we are mathematically safe I can have a look at one or two players that I need to see: “We’ve achieved our target of staying in the Premier League and now I need to look at what we need so we can push on next season.”
That said, Pardew, is mindful that each position in the table is worth over a million Euros in prize money.
“The chairman will probably be picking the team, which is fine by me,” he laughed.
CRYSTAL PALACE (4-2-3-1):
Speroni 6: Ward 5, Dann 5, Delaney 6, Souare 5; Jedinak 6 (Yong 82), McArthur 6; Zaha 6 (Chamakh 83), Ledley 5 (Puncheon 46, 6), Bolaise 6; Murray 6
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1):
De Gea 8: Valencia 6, Smalling 6 (McNair 82), Jones 5, Shaw 5 (Evans 38, 6); Blind 6, Herrera 6; Mata 7, Fellaini 6, Young 8; Rooney 6 (Falcao 46, 6)
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