Following 2 home draws against Benfica and Newcastle United, the reds looked to get back to winning ways with the visit of championship side Crystal Palace in the quarter finals of the carling cup. With rivals City and Liverpool already in the draw for the semi’s the prospect of a mouth watering tie in the next round provided all the incentive for a young United side, many of whom had plenty to prove following last years dismal exit to West Ham at the same stage. Having impressed in his brief cameo against Aldershot, starlet Ravel Morrison found himself on the subs bench, whilst the much maligned Darron Gibson was handed his first start of the season, looking to force his way back into the United reckoning.
Despite United fielding several youthful members of the squad, all had experience in the competition, and on paper seemed more than a match for a Palace side who had struggled in the league of late, with a lack of goals constantly dogging the south London side. Expectations of a United precession however were quickly evaporated, as Palace set about their task with great adventure and without fear, as Wilfrid Zaha in particular provided the spark to what was overall a very quiet first half. United struggled to find their rhythm, with Berbatov and Macheda failing to provide adequate movement up front, and allowing the Palace back four to nick the ball away with frustrating frequency. Antonio Valencia looked United’s main threat down the right hand side, with the Ecuadorian threatening to get the better of Patrick McCarthy, but was not willingly supported by a lethargic United attack.
The half time introduction of Ravel Morrison brought a buzz of anticipation around Old Trafford, but it was the visitors that lit the touch paper on what had been a dire match, as on the hour mark Darren Ambrose unleashed a stunning piledriver from 35 yards into the top corner, leaving Ben Amos stranded and Old Trafford stunned. United didn’t lick their wounds for long though, and 5 minutes later were back on terms, after Macheda was dragged down my McCarthy in the penalty area, with the Italian himself stepping up to dispatch the resulting spot kick and seemingly set up a United comeback. With Morrison pulling the strings, United probed in the final stages of the game, with the youngster coming close with a good hit from the edge of the area requiring a timely intervention from Palace keeper Price. However, a frustrating night for the reds continued as the tie went to extra time, with the Championship side showing no signs of relenting in their bid to reach the semi finals.
With an extra half an hour to find the winning goal, it was surely a matter of time before United would eventually break the stern Palace resistance and show their extra quality. However, just 8 minutes into extra time, Palace took the lead for the second time, as Ambrose’s curling cross was diverted home by Murray, sending the travelling Palace contingent into raptures, and leaving United with it all to do again. Surprisingly however, and symptomatic of what was a dire United performance, it was the visiting side who looked the more likely to increase their lead as the clock ticked down, with substitute Glenn Murray providing a handful for the United defence on the break. Aside from a final 5 minute flurry, which saw Palace defender Gardner produce 2 heroic blocks, the reds ultimately failed to do enough to merit going through, and were subjected to another shock quarter final defeat for the second season running.
Amos – 5 Kicking was very poor throughout, looked nervous under weight of expectation.
Rafael – 6 Solid return on comeback.
Smalling – 6 Not at fault for either goals, defended well.
Evans – 6 Likewise Smalling.
Fabio – 5 Failed to last 40 minutes.
Valencia – 6 United’s greatest threat, played too narrowly at times however.
Park – 6 Failed to provide the cutting edge that United needed.
Gibson – 6 Solid performance on return to the side.
Diouf – 3 Abject and disinterested.
Berbatov – 5 Failed to get into the game, subbed at half time.
Macheda – 4 Penalty aside, performance lacked basic application.
Fryers – 5 Few wobbles, not as assured as Leed’s performance.
Morrison – 7 Bright movement and always demanding the ball.
Pogba – 6 Showed good versatility by playing centre back.