By Simon Peach, PA Chief Football Writer
Manchester United were made to sweat for their 13th successive home win after star midfielder Casemiro’s red card for violent conduct sparked a frenzied conclusion against Crystal Palace.
Fresh from sealing their place in the Carabao Cup final on Wednesday, Erik ten Hag’s side looked set to make light work of Patrick Vieira’s Eagles in a rare Saturday afternoon kick-off.
Bruno Fernandes’ early penalty and a close-range Marcus Rashford goal had in-form United cruising to victory, only for Casemiro’s sending-off to make for an uncomfortable ending at Old Trafford.
Jeffrey Schlupp, whose shove on Antony led to the melee in which the Brazil star grabbed Will Hughes around the throat, pulled one back and Ten Hag’s 10 men dug deep to see out a 2-1 win.
The relief was as palpable as the joy at the final whistle, just 17 days after Palace grabbed a draw with a stoppage-time leveller in the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park.
Casemiro’s suspension was the main talking point after that match and will be again, with this red card leading to a three-match domestic ban that will keep him out until the Carabao Cup final.
United fought to the end on an afternoon that began with Old Trafford falling silent to remember those that lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster ahead of its 65th anniversary on Monday.
There was a lively atmosphere when play got under way, with United players haranguing the referee just minutes into the match claiming that Hughes had handled a Rashford cross.
Nothing was given but VAR Tony Harrington advised Andre Marriner to check the pitchside monitor, leading the official to point to the spot.
Fernandes stepped up and coolly sent Vicente Guaita the wrong way with seven minutes on the clock.
United were playing with confidence and went close to a second in the 13th minute when the Palace goalkeeper impressively got across to deny Wout Weghorst’s looping header.
Rashford showed skill and strength to hold off Chris Richards and force Guaita into a save from a narrow angle, with Antony seeing a right-footed curling effort stopped from the resulting corner.
The United onslaught continued as Fred directed a Weghorst cutback just wide as he attempted to score in a third straight game.
Palace had created precious little in a one-sided first half, but David De Gea had to be alert to prevent a Schlupp fizzer from distance as half-time approached.
Vieira’s men showed flashes of quality early in the second half, but Lisandro Martinez made a couple of key interventions to quell the danger.
Rashford lifted over at the other end before Ten Hag moved him to centre forward after Alejandro Garnacho replaced target man Weghorst.
The decision quickly paid dividends. Luke Shaw drove in a low left-footed cross at the end of a fine team move and Rashford directed home in front of the Stretford End in the 63rd minute.
United looked home and hosed, only for a coming together between the sides to change the dynamics.
The teams clashed after Schlupp unceremoniously barged over Antony, with Casemiro grabbing Hughes by the throat as players from both sides fumed.
Referee Marriner ended up dishing out a straight red card to the Brazil midfielder after being advised by the VAR to check the pitchside monitor.
Palace, emboldened by their man advantage, attacked with renewed vigour for the final 20 minutes.
De Gea produced a fine stop to deny Marc Guehi, but Palace reduced the deficit in the 76th minute as Schlupp superbly turned home a wayward Cheick Doucoure shot.
The Eagles continued to push. Michael Olise had an attempt before Martinez brilliantly blocked Eberechi Eze’s attempt.
United brought on deadline-day signing Marcel Sabitzer in a bid to see out a game, with Ten Hag then turning to Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof after Jean-Philippe Mateta headed off target.
The United faithful roared their team through seven minutes of stoppage time, with man-of-the-match Martinez throwing himself in front of a late cross.
Vieira marched straight to the officials at full-time.