LONDON (AP) — Manchester United slumped to one last defeat of a sorry season by losing 1-0 to Crystal Palace on the final day of the Premier League thanks to Wilfried Zaha’s first-half goal on Sunday.
Watched by recently hired manager Erik Ten Hag in south London, United was able at least to avoid the embarrassment of lining up in the Europa Conference League next season because of West Ham losing away to Brighton.
It meant United clinched sixth place for a spot in the Europa League but finished on 58 points — its lowest-ever total in a single season in the Premier League. The campaign showed how far the team is behind Manchester City and Liverpool, which were involved in a dramatic final day that saw the title again lifted at the Etihad Stadium.
One of Ralf Rangnick’s final acts in interim charge of the United team was to hand Hannibal Mejbri a first league start and there were several other youngsters on the bench at Selhurst Park.
Palace manager Patrick Vieira also shuffled his pack and teenager Jesurun Rak-Sakyi was given his full debut for Palace, which had endured a difficult night at Goodison Park on Thursday in letting slip a two-goal lead and seeing Vieira involved in an altercation with a fan after fulltime.
United started the better of the two sides with Bruno Fernandes' effort blocked by Conor Gallagher before Edinson Cavani’s scuffed shot was parried away by wrong-footed goalkeeper Vicente Guaita minutes later.
The visitors knew victory in front of incoming boss Ten Hag would guarantee a place in the Europa League next season and the deadlock should have been broken in the 25th minute when Cavani sent Anthony Elanga away but he dragged wide from inside the penalty area.
Palace was jolted into life after that opportunity, with the hosts squandering two openings of their own soon after.
First, David De Gea denied Zaha’s left-footed strike before Jeffrey Schlupp fired straight at the Spanish goalkeeper following Odsonne Edouard's superb flick.
The opener did arrive with eight minutes of the first half left and it was ex-United man Zaha who provided it — but only after a big helping hand from Fernandes.
Fernandes kicked Alex Telles’ throw-in back toward his own goal and Zaha latched onto the loose ball, created space away from Diogo Dalot and Victor Lindelof, then rifled into the bottom corner for his 15th goal of the season.
United improved after the break and it was former Monaco attacker Mejbri who did his utmost to get the visitors back on level terms.
Fine defending by Joel Ward denied the teenager after he had raced into the area before his curling shot was tipped over by Guaita.
It was somewhat of a surprise to see Rangnick withdraw Mejbri just past the hour mark and by this point it could have been 2-0 had Gallagher — on the final appearance of his season-long loan from Chelsea — angled his shot inside the post from 20 yards (meters).
More players from the under-23 team were thrown on by Rangnick, with Shola Shoretire and Alejandro Garnacho introduced, but the latter could not get on the end of Fernandes’ cross late on.
The final chance fell to Scott McTominay in stoppage time but he blazed wide to highlight the size of the task for Ten Hag, who officially starts on Monday.
Palace concluded an excellent first season under Vieira in 12th.
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The Associated Press