Pogba returns to score goal packed with emotion
Paul Pogba proved his fitness, and scored a goal which he dedicated to his late father, as the youngest Manchester United line-up in Premier League history ended the season with a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Josh Harrop, one of four full league debutants in Jose Mourinho’s side, opened the scoring although the manager was clearly more interested in safeguarding players ahead of Wednesday’s Europa League Final against Ajax in Stockholm.
The 31-year-old Wayne Rooney was the only player older than 25 in a line-up that averaged 22 years and 284 days.
And he was brought off in the 88th minute — receiving a massive ovation on what could be his last appearance for the club — to be replaced by 16-year-old Angel Gomes who became United’s youngest player for 61 years.
Pogba, who had not played for 10 days following the death of his father Fassou Antoine, was given a half of action by the United manager and responded not only with his goal but by setting up the opener.
After just 14 minutes, 21-year-old midfielder Harrop, who had already enjoyed a couple of exciting forays down the left flank, raced onto a superb through ball from Pogba.
Harrop still had work to do, as he entered the Palace area, but beat defender Martin Kelly easily and cut into a central position before placing a powerful shot into the far corner.
The youngster’s delight was obvious, and understandable, and the early goal lifted the atmosphere at an Old Trafford with an unusually large number of empty seats and obviously in end-of-season mode.
They had more to cheer just four minutes later as Jesse Lingard raced half the length of the field and squared into a crowded area where Joel Ward should have been able to clear the danger.
But the Palace defender succeeded only in stopping the ball, presenting Pogba with the simplest of finishes from a dozen yards.
Rooney had already threatened before the goal flurry and, with United having failed to score more than two goals in a home league game since Boxing Day’s win against Sunderland, United supporters clearly felt that run was about to end.
Palace had other ideas and Christian Benteke should have done better than glance a header wide from a Wilfried Zaha corner soon after.
But that was rare relief for the visitors as United continued to press and Axel Tuanzebe picked out Harrop for another shooting opportunity which the youngster placed just wide.
A good half for Mourinho ended in worrying fashion, however, when Eric Bailly — who is suspended for the Europa League final — made a full-blooded challenge on Zaha as he threatened the United goal and immediately fell to the ground clutching his knee.
The Ivory Coast defender was able to continue but, with Wednesday in mind, Mourinho brought off Pogba and Lingard in the final minutes of the half, a move he had promised to make to allow the pair to enjoy a standing ovation from supporters and rest for the final.
Palace might have got back in the game as Zaha’s cross was met by a towering header from Christian Benteke which struck the foot of Joel Pereira’s post.