LONDON (AP) — Marouane Fellaini headed in a late winner as Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 2-1 in the English Premier League on Saturday to move within touching distance of a return to the Champions League.
United will be guaranteed a top-four finish if Liverpool loses to newly crowned champion Chelsea on Sunday.
Fellaini rose at the back post to nod in a cross by Ashley Young in the 78th minute as United ended a run of three straight losses. Juan Mata’s 19th-minute penalty for United was cancelled out by a curling free kick from Jason Puncheon in the 57th.
United was indebted to goalkeeper David De Gea, who made great saves from Glenn Murray either side of Fellaini’s goal to continue his excellent season.
Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, and Chris Smalling went off injured during the match but United held on to move seven points ahead of fifth-place Liverpool, who have three games left.
“We haven’t played our best match but we have fought to the end,” United manager Louis van Gaal said. “It was very important to win this match, and it is a right step to qualification for the Champions League.”
If Liverpool beat Chelsea, United have two chances to secure a place in the top four — firstly against Arsenal next weekend, then a final game of the season against Hull.
Rooney should be fit for the Arsenal match, with Van Gaal saying the England captain was taken off because of a dead leg.
United were awarded their penalty after Scott Dann was adjudged to have handled a cross from Young. Mata took over penalty duties from Rooney and found the bottom corner, even though Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni dived the right way.
Palace were much improved in the second half and equalised when Puncheon’s free kick glanced off the head of Blind, who was in the defensive wall, and inside post De Gea’s near post.
De Gea stuck out his right hand to deny Murray from close range, and James McArthur steered a shot wide for Palace on the counterattack. The hosts were made to pay for their wasted opportunities when Fellaini headed into an empty net after Young’s cross caused indecision in the Palace defence, with Speroni running into centre back Damien Delaney.
“It is galling to be stood here after a defeat,” Palace manager Alan Pardew said.
Palace have still never beaten United in the Premier League.