Scholes steals the show
By Mark Buckingham. Last Updated: 18/12/04 7:05pm
An inspired Paul Scholes performance kept Manchester United in the title race, after a thrilling 5-2 victory over Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
Scholes put United in front, after Wayne Rooney had missed a penalty, only for Danny Granville to poke home an equaliser before Alan Smith's header restored the lead before half time.
A fast and furious five-minute spell straight after the break saw Joonas Kolkka equalise for Palace and then Emmerson Boyce's own goal and another Scholes finish handed United a much-needed three points in a game they dominated, with John O'Shea pouncing in stoppage time for a fifth goal.
For much of the first half, United put the tempo to the game with Darren Fletcher's early attempt deflected wide and Scholes' acrobatic effort easily claimed by Gabor Kiraly.
On eight minutes, United were gifted an early Christmas present from referee Steve Dunn, as Fletcher dropped to the turf under a minimal challenge from Granville.
Though there was little complaint from Palace, the penalty award seemed harsh, and perhaps justice was meted out when Rooney's tame spot kick was pushed out by Kiraly.
It was not until midway through the first period that the game took off, with Palace's lack of concentration contributing to their downfall for the opening goal.
Scholes took a short corner to Ryan Giggs and carried on his run into the box, where he accepted a piercing through ball from Roy Keane, skipped inside a defender and lifted the ball into the roof of the net.
But The Eagles rocked the hosts on 27 minutes with their only meaningful attack of the half. Gonzalo Sorondo's header from a corner was blocked by his team-mate Andy Johnson, but Granville reacted quickest to prod the ball past Roy Carroll.
A 60-second spell of pressure then restored the hosts' advantage, as The Red Devils made it three times lucky to forge back in front.
Kiraly tipped a Keane piledriver over the bar before, from the resulting corner which was cleared to the edge of the area, the Hungarian keeper beat out Scholes's swerving shot.
There was no reprieve for Palace, though, as Scholes swung in another set-piece and Smith leapt effortlessly into the air to guide a header into the far corner.
Remarkably, Palace levelled for the second time in the game, just 45 seconds after the interval in a dramatic start to the second half.
The previously ineffectual Wayne Routledge flicked the ball to Michael Hughes, whose cross was headed in by Kolkka, with Neville static on the penalty spot.
In just over 60 seconds, The Red Devils nosed in front again, after they had served a reminder of their threat when Kiraly's legs denied Rooney.
The Palace keeper, though, blotted his copybook from the resulting cross as he came to claim Neville's centre, only to miss the ball and see it bounce off Boyce's head and trickle over the line.
A minute later and the hosts had procured a fourth goal, as Smith nodded a long throw into the run of Scholes who, despite falling to the turf, steered a left-foot shot into the far corner.
Buoyed by the flurry of goals, United scented more and Giggs delved into his personal archive to set off on a mazy run, which resulted in Kiraly making an unconventional save with his elbow at the near post.
Giggs thumped a 25-yard drive into Kiraly's chest after another dazzling run before, on a rare foray forward, Palace showed they possess an eye for the target.
United failed to adequately deal with a cross prior to Routledge fizzing in a low drive, which was smartly pushed out by Carroll, and the home defence was alert to deal with the rebound.
Red Devils captain Keane headed a corner over the bar while his expected successor Rio Ferdinand came close to his first goal for the club when glancing a set-piece on to the roof of the net.
Palace boss Iain Dowie made attacking substitutions, but they had little impact, as United looked the more likely team to score the seventh goal of a tumultuous contest.
Scholes, sniffing a hat-trick, tried to achieve the feat in fanciful style but his overhead kick, from Rooney's cross, was wide of the target.
The seventh goal did arrive in stoppage time, as substitute O'Shea put added gloss on the scoreline by volleying home at the near post from the impressive Giggs's cross.
Click here for player ratings
|Manchester United||Team Name||Crystal Palace|
|11||Shots on target ( Inc Goals )||3|
|5||Shots off Target (inc woodwork)||1|
|13||Total Fouls Conceded||8|
Barclays Premier League
|10||West Ham United||28||31|
|17||West Bromwich Albion||28||25|