Mata keeps Red Devils’ top-four hopes alive

The Spain international punished a costly error from Sebastien Bassong in the second half as the Canaries moved a step closer to relegation from the Premier League

Juan Mata scored the only goal of the game to keep Manchester United’s Champions League aspirations alive and edge Norwich closer to relegation from the Premier League.

The Red Devils are now just a point behind fourth-placed Manchester City, who face Arsenal on Sunday, thanks to Mata’s solitary strike at Carrow Road.

Sebastien Bassong crucially misjudged a long ball forward and allowed Wayne Rooney to get in behind the Norwich defence, before setting up Mata for the all important winner.

Norwich stay in 19th and must now hope both Newcastle and Sunderland, who face Aston Villa and Chelsea respectively later in the day, drop points this weekend in their faltering bid to avoid an instant return to the Championship.

United started Saturday four points adrift of rivals City in the race for the top four and with Louis van Gaal having decided to leave out forward Marcus Rashford and defender Daley Blind were dealt a blow in the warm-up.

Anthony Martial, the hero of United’s FA Cup semi-final win over Everton, suffered an injury prior to kick off and was replaced by Ander Herrera.

With United missing their most dangerous attacking threats, it was Norwich who enjoyed the better of the early going and went close to taking the lead inside four minutes.

Cameron Jerome met Nathan Redmond’s well-placed cross from the left but was unable to get any direction on his header, with David De Gea reacting well to keep the ball out with his legs.

United were dealt a further blow in the 12th minute when Matteo Darmian collided with Ivo Pinto. The former Torino defender received lengthy treatment and was replaced by Cameron Borthwick-Jackson before being carried to the tunnel on a stretcher.

Chances proved few and far between in a low-key first half, although Chris Smalling perhaps should have done better in the 29th minute, heading narrowly over from Mata’s corner.

The visitors were the slightly superior side after the restart but both teams continued to struggle to sustain much in the way of pressure.

Herrera fired into the side-netting from Mata’s clever lofted pass and Smalling was unable to get on the end of a flick on from Marcos Rojo as United laboured in search of an opener.

Norwich had thrown on Dieumerci Mbokani as they looked to break the deadlock but Mata finally did so 18 minutes from time, although the goal owed much to Bassong’s costly error.

Rooney showed no hesitation in pouncing on Bassong’s failure to clear a long ball, surging down the right and smartly holding the ball up for the onrushing Mata, who netted his fifth career goal against Norwich with a simple finish.

Morgan Schneiderlin
shot wide late on but his profligacy was not punished as United held on with little difficulty.

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