By Andrew Embling
- Mata goal seals 3 crucial points for United
- Result leaves United one point behind City
Manchester United kept their top four bid hopes alive with a 1-0 victory over relegation-threatened Norwich City.
In a game lacking any real quality Juan Mata’s second half goal proved decisive as United moved to within a point of rivals Manchester City in the table.
United lost Anthony Martial before the game after picking up an injury in the warm up, Ander Herrera coming in to the starting line up to race the Frenchman.
Norwich, with so much at stake, made a bright start with former United trainee Robbie Brady causing early problems for the Red Devils defence and Michael Carrick clearing off the line from a corner.
The Canaries thought they had the lead as Cameron Jerome was left unmarked eight yards out to head goalwards, only for David de Gea to once again save United with a brilliant stop.
United’s already difficult start was made even more painful as Matteo Darmian was injured making a challenge and was stretchered away inside the first 15 minutes.
With Martial out and Rashford rested United had no penetration beyond the Norwich defence and were struggling to fashion any sort of coherent attack.
Norwich were looking the more dangerous and showing more intensity than their opponents, but United should have taken the lead as Smalling headed a corner over from four yards out.
Lingard shot straight at Ruddy as the Norwich keeper was made to work for the first time, but in the main it was far too pedestrian for United, who had plenty of possession but once again failed to create anything of note as they went to the break level pegging.
United started the second half with a bit more purpose, Herrera volleying just wide from Mata’s ball forward.
Smalling almost got on to the end of a Rojo knockdown from another corner as chances continued to be few and far between from both sides in a match littered with a lack of quality.
It was looking like a mistake could be the difference, Borthwick-Jackson almost providing it as his poor headed clearance fell to O’Neill, but he failed to keep his effort down.
Mbokani was the next Norwich player to spurn a chance as he failed to connect properly to Hoolahan’s dangerous cross before a mistake did cost a goal and it was the home side who made it.
Bassong misjudged a bouncing ball and allowed Rooney to get behind him in the box. The United captain looked like he was going to shoot himself, but checked and found Mata who made no mistake as he struck low under Ruddy to give United the lead with 18 minutes remaining.
Schneiderlin scuffed his effort wide after a good ball by Rooney as the game became subdued.
Memphis struck a late free kick just wide as United finished the stronger leaving Norwich’s hopes of avoiding the drop hanging by a thread.
Manchester United: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Darmian (Borthwick-Jackson 12), Carrick (Fosu-Mensah 88), Herrera, Mata, Lingard (Schneiderlin 78), Memphis, Rooney Substitutes Not Used: Romero, McNair, Januzaj