Wilfried Zaha strike for Crystal Palace sinks woeful Manchester United | Premier League

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Manchester United’s worst season in 30 years of the Premier League ended with a typical whimper. As their two deepest rivals competed for the title, the best United could hope for was avoiding next season’s Europa Conference League.

Objective achieved, an undesirable new frontier avoided though little thanks to United. West Ham’s loss to Brighton meant they crept into the Europa League despite Wilfried Zaha’s first-half goal delivering a sixth successive away defeat. After a season concluded with a goal difference of zero and some excruciatingly poor performances, Selhurst Park a case in point, playing any form of European football next season feels a like wholly undeserved bonus. The Glazer family owe Brighton and Graham Potter a debt of gratitude their own billion-pound team are not worthy of.

The darkest hour is before the new dawn? In the stands sat Erik ten Hag, clad in summer jacket alongside the United football director, John Murtough and Steve McClaren, returning to the club as the Dutchman’s assistant. The incoming manager had abandoned a post-season Caribbean jolly with Ajax to catch his new charges in action. Meanwhile, Patrick Vieira, whose Crystal Palace team has exceeded many expectations, and appearing unruffled by his Goodison Park dust-up, was hailed by home fans after a season of progress and exciting football.

Edinson Cavani was playing his final match for United. Hannibal Mejbri, the teenage Tunisian who kept busy enough while never really imposing himself, could be a face of United’s future, though doubts circle most of his teammates. Cristiano Ronaldo had not traveled to south London, and the given explanation of a recurring hip problem did little to quell discussion over where his future may lie.

Conor Gallagher’s name was sung to the rafters of the Holmesdale End. He returns to Chelsea an England international, his reputation enhanced by being the driving force of Vieira’s team and he excelled again here. Not that the game started with much vigor, the first 10 minutes idling by with an end-of-term vibe. It took a burst from Zaha to focus the home fans on the action, his pass narrowly failing to reach Odsonne Eduoard.

Erik ten Hag watches from the stands.
Erik ten Hag (center), who will take over as Manchester United manager this summer, watches from the stands. Photograph: Vince Mignott / EPA

That appeared to wake up United, and Cavani might have done better when Bruno Fernandes’s shot deflected into his path. Vicente Guaita made a reaction save as the ball spun off Joachim Andersen. Fernandes’ tricks and flicks were failing him, and he took out his frustrations on his teammates, an outward display of the lack of team spirit that has been an open secret all season, and Ralf Rangnick, the outgoing interim manager, had confirmed in his pre-match news conference.

Fernandes glowered at Anthony Elanga when the winger outpaced the Palace defense but then squared the ball beyond his sliding teammate. Almost immediately, United’s midfield and defense offered little resistance as Zaha surged into the box and forced a save from David De Gea, who soon after had to do the same to stop Jeffrey Schlupp.

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United’s fans kept singing throughout despite the deathly pallor of their late performance but they were quietened by Zaha barrelling into that same inside-left channel, past Diogo Dalot and Victor Lindelof to score against his former club. Zaha, whose status as the one man Palace cannot do without has been lessened this season by teammates improving around him, was the leading man here, causing all sorts of problems for Dalot. As Zaha celebrated, Ten Hag, doubtless aware the TV cameras were on him, sat stone-faced though at half-time was happy enough to pose for selfies with Palace fans.

Sent out early for the second half by Rangnick, powering down the touchline with the face of a man looking forward to all this being someone else’s problem, United stepped up their efforts a tad. Mejbri at least forced a save from Guaita on the hour, seconds before being withdrawn, and reluctantly, for Juan Mata, making his final bow for United, his eight-year stint encapsulating the waste of talent and cash that has gone on around him.

Shola Shoretire, an 18-year-old, replacing Fred with 15 minutes to play gave Ten Hag sight of another young gun as United tried to find a way back into the game. Alejandro Gamacho, on for Dalot, joined the effort five minutes later. The fresh legs did little to energize United, Scott McTominay firing over late on to jeers from the home fans. Ten Hag can have seen little to convince himself that his new job will be easy.

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