Josh Harrop scored a dream debut goal as a youthful Manchester United side gave Reds fans an exciting glimpse of the future during a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in the final Premier League match of the season at Old Trafford.
A first-half goal from the impressive Harrop was doubled by Paul Pogba four minutes later as the Reds headed into Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm in winning form.
Jose Mourinho named the youngest United side in Premier League history with Joel Pereira making his first start in the domestic league, while debuts were handed to Demi Mitchell and Harrop. The more experienced Pogba returned from compassionate leave and the likes of Angel Gomes, who became the youngest player to pick up the Jimmy Murphy Youth Team Player of the Year trophy at the Reds’ awards night, Matty Willock and Zak Dearnley were named on the Reds substitutes’ bench for the first time.
With the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers all having progressed through the United academy system, today was a chance for the next bunch of rising stars to showcase their talent to the Old Trafford faithful.
One of those youngsters, Tim Fosu-Mensah, had to be on hand to deny Patrick van Aanholt inside the first two minutes with a last-ditch challenge as, further forward, Harrop started brightly by displaying a nice array of touches.
Another debutant, Mitchell, then hit a glorious 30-yard ball over the top that found Wayne Rooney in behind, but the captain’s chip over Wayne Hennessey found the roof of the net, rather than the back of it.
Harrop, who had scored a hat-trick at Old Trafford six days earlier for the Reserves, didn’t have to wait long to show another glimpse of his talent as he latched on to Pogba’s pass, cut inside on his right foot and rifled the ball past Hennessey into the far corner for a dream debut goal, becoming the 100th different player to score for United in the Premier League.
Just four minutes later and the Reds were two up as Jesse Lingard broke from deep and fed Pogba, who evaded the falling Joel Ward to slot the ball through Hennessey’s legs and mark his return to the United side following the death of his father with a fitting goal.
The youthful Reds were playing some calm and collected football, with Pogba running the midfield area. Harrop was brimming with confidence after his goal and he tried his luck from an acute angle, but the ball evaded the far post.
Pogba left the field to a standing ovation just before the break, replaced by Michael Carrick, as Mourinho looked to save the Frenchman’s legs for the final on Wednesday.
Possession: United 58% Palace 42%
Shots at goal: United 7 Palace 2
Shots on target: United 2 Palace 0
Corners: United 3 Palace 2
The second half was slow to get going but the first real chance fell to Christian Benteke, who headed against the post from former Reds winger Wilfried Zaha’s pinpoint cross.
Twenty minutes of the second half had passed without much to report as United looked comfortable in what looked increasingly like an end-of-season stroll for both teams. Having said that, the Reds’ youngsters gained more and more confidence with every touch of the football.
Palace were looking to make the last 15 minutes a little more interesting, however, as a Bakary Sako free-kick hit Carrick and nearly found the goal, before Pereira made his first save of the game, clutching Luka Milivojevic’s 25-yard free-kick to bring an appreciative roar from the Old Trafford crowd.
Many of the United faithful were hoping to see young prodigy Angel Gomes make an appearance and Mourinho gave them what they wanted as the 16-year-old came off the bench for his first taste of Premier League football inside the final five minutes, in place of Rooney.
Gomes, who became the youngest player to appear in the Premier League for any team, showed some cute touches in a small cameo and added to the feeling around Old Trafford that the future is bright after an encouraging display by the Reds’ youngsters.
Possession: United 59% Palace 41%
Shots at goal: United 9 Palace 6
Shots on target: United 2 Palace 1
Corners: United 3 Palace 5
United: Pereira, Fosu-Mensah, Bailly, Jones, Mitchell, McTominay, Tuanzebe, Pogba (Carrick 45), Lingard (Martial 45+2), Rooney (Gomes 88), Harrop.
Subs not used: O’Hara, Blind, Willock, Dearnley.
Booked: McTominay, Carrick.
Crystal Palace: Hennessey, Ward, Kelly, Tomkins, Schlupp, Milivojevic, Puncheon, McArthur (Sako 60), Zaha (Campbell 79), van Aanholt (Kaikai 67), Benteke.
Subs not used: Speroni, Dann, Wan-Bissaka, Lee.