Football: Misfiring Manchester United draw a blank at Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace defender Scott Dann (right) vies with Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.
Crystal Palace defender Scott Dann (right) vies with Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Manchester United's problems in front of goal continued as Louis van Gaal's side failed to score for a third successive game in a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

The stalemate left United in fourth place, four points adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Their lacklustre performance and that of striker Wayne Rooney, who again struggled to make his mark on the game, will do nothing to silence the criticism of United's cautious approach this season.

And had Palace, who now sit in eighth position, made more of the opportunities that came their way, United manager Van Gaal would have had much more difficult questions to answer.

The ongoing debate about United's playing style reached new levels in the wake of the midweek League Cup exit to Championship side Middlesbrough.

It wasn't just that United were beaten on penalties by a side from the second tier, it was the manner of their exit after a drab scoreless draw that prompted the inquest.

Paul Scholes voiced his opinion, with the former United player complaining of a lack of risk and creativity and suggesting he would not like to play in the current side.

Van Gaal brushed off Scholes' comments, insisting his team was entertaining and pointing to the fact the club was seven points better off than after 10 games last season as evidence of the progress being made.

Certainly, Van Gaal's side have become more efficient, although the manager made it clear before this game he would like to see his strikers become more ruthless in front of goal.

But there was little evidence of the entertainment the Dutchman claims they provide during a first half when the visitors were fortunate to stay on level terms.

Palace came into the game on the back of successive league defeats and a painful 5-1 loss at Manchester City in the League Cup on Wednesday.

And their start suggested they were keen to return to the thrilling form of early season.

MORE URGENCY

Twice David De Gea was called on to prevent Palace taking the lead, with the United keeper directing Yannick Bolasie's rising shot onto the crossbar with the faintest of touches before tipping Scott Dann's header over the bar.

United were struggling to provide Rooney, operating in the central striker role, with any meaningful service, although the striker did get the opportunity to test Palace keeper Wayne Hennessey with a 24th minute free-kick.

And when he was eventually sent clear of the home backline by a superb threaded pass from Anthony Martial, the England striker allowed the ball to run on too close to Hennessey who raced out to clear.

Rooney wasn't the only United player guilty of failing to make the most of an opportunity in front of goal.

Ander Herrera should have done much better when he miscued his shot from a Martial pull-back.

But the visitors simply weren't creating enough opportunities to put Palace under real pressure.

And the start of the second half maintained the pattern of the first, with Palace showing more urgency without managing to break down a back-four well marshalled by Chris Smalling.

Palace winger Wilfried Zaha was a constant threat against his former club, tormenting Matteo Darmian to the extent Van Gaal was forced to withdraw his right-back midway through the second half.

The United manager also introduced Marouane Fellaini and moved Martial into a central role with Rooney shifting out to the left in a bid to freshen up his attack.

But the changes had little impact and it was Palace who finished the stronger.