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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Manchester United prepared for the FA Cup semifinals by beating Crystal Palace 2-0 on Wednesday to enhance its bid to break into the top four places and qualify for the Champions League.
United profited from an own goal in the fourth minute when Damien Delaney inadvertently turned a cross from Matteo Darmian into his own net.
Darmian did manage to score his first goal since joining United last year, a stunning left-footed striker that hit the post on the way into the net in the 55th minute.
With four games remaining, United is only two points behind third-place City and one behind Arsenal, which plays West Bromwich Albion on Thursday.
United could face Palace again this season, in the FA Cup final on May 21, if both teams navigate their way through this weekend's Wembley semifinals. United plays Everton on Saturday.
Palace's seven changes at Old Trafford showed how much of Alan Pardew's focus was on the London club's semifinal against Watford on Sunday.
It was little surprise goalkeeper Julian Speroni was beaten so early into his first appearance of the season.
Darmian has struggled at times during his maiden season in English football but made an impressive impact. The Italy defender broke free down the left and sent in a cross that Delaney connected with, directing it low and hard past Speroni.
But United couldn't extend its lead in the first half.
Juan Mata tried his luck with a low drive and Anthony Martial forced an acrobatic save as United attacked with unusual panache, before Wayne Rooney stung the palms of Speroni.
A wayward Emmanuel Adebayor shot was the only chance of note Palace could muster during a half in which the majority of play was at the other end, with Delaney almost turning another cross into his own goal.
Palace's goal was soon under threat again, with Marcus Rashford forcing a save out of Speroni before intelligently leaving the ball for Jesse Lingard to have a shot.
The Argentine goalkeeper's performance belied that of a player reduced to a watching brief this season on the bench and he did well to deny Martial before the break
Palace was fortunate to finish the half with 11 men after a nasty Pape Souare challenge. The full back escaped with a booking for his lunge on Mata and made an impact after the break to block Rooney's effort from the edge of the box.
Impressive pressing from Rashford resulted in Mata getting in a shot that Speroni did well to tip wide, but the goalkeeper could do nothing to prevent Darmian opening his United account in style. Darmian controlled a clearance and hit an exquisite strike from the edge of the box that went in off the post.
It was an impressive goal that Rooney tried to add to with a dipping effort, before Lingard and Rashford were then denied by Speroni in quick succession.
Substitute Memphis Depay saw a shot deflected as the match petered out, with Darmian dragging an effort wide as he looked to add extra gloss to the scoreline.
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