Louis van Gaal went from feeling lousy to happy after watching his Manchester United team return to winning ways against Crystal Palace.
Substitute Juan Mata scored his third goal of the season just four minutes after his introduction to hand United a 1-0 win at Old Trafford on Saturday.
Going into the match on the back of a three-match winless run, Van Gaal had said he felt “lousy”, but his team are now just two points outside the top four.
There was a slight hint of frustration about Van Gaal’s persona post-match. The United boss was unhappy his men did not score more goals against a solid and packed Palace defence.
But his over-riding emotion was happiness.
“I am happy with the three points,” Van Gaal said.
“They came to defend and that is always very difficult to play as a team against.
“We had a lot of time on the ball, we created possibilities, not big chances, but possibilities.
“We could have scored in the first half but I said at half-time, ‘Okay, we played better than the matches before because we kept the pace before and the opponents will tire and there will come a moment we will score’.
“It was Juan Mata (who did) and after that goal I think we created more big chances because then they had to come forward, only we have to finish these chances because they were big chances.
“But I said several times when we are ahead in a game we have to kill the game and we did. So I’m happy, we have three points and we are two points behind fourth place so it is in our hands and that’s important.”
Mata exchanged passes with Angel di Maria in the 67th minute before dispatching a curling low shot past Julian Speroni off the head of Damien Delaney.
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Marouane Fellaini all spurned chances to score and Luke Shaw also went close with a fine shot after a stunning run from his own half.
Palace had perhaps the best chance of the match though. Fraizer Campbell was presented with a golden opportunity in the first when he went clean through after a mix-up between centre-halves Daley Blind and Paddy McNair, but the former United striker put the ball over the bar.
“Just before half-time there was a misunderstanding between McNair and Blind and I could have been sitting here differently,” Van Gaal acknowledged.
“But the team has done what everybody in the stadium expected today. “It was not as easy as everybody thinks. But we have won and that is good.”
Van Gaal’s opposite number Neil Warnock was left to ponder what might have been following a match in which his team showed impressive discipline and organisation.
Yannick Bolasie posed United trouble all afternoon down the left flank, and as well as Campbell’s first-half opportunity, the visitors had other chances to find the net too.
“I think that’s the best opportunity I’ve had to beat United to be honest with the run they were on,” said the Palace boss, who is now without a win in five.
“I said if we could get in front the crowd would be very restless and we had the best chance of the game with Fraizer Campbell.
“The biggest disappointment was that we didn’t create more from what we had.
“We had so many opportunities to pass the ball in good areas, without any pressure on us from the Manchester United players.”
Warnock was fined £9,000 and warned about his future conduct earlier this week for comments he made about referee Craig Pawson following Palace’s defeat to Chelsea last month.
He felt Chris Foy could have awarded his team a penalty on Saturday, but was loathe to criticise the referee too much given his recent punishment.
“We could have had penalty before half-time, with Shaw pulling Campbell from a cross but I thought the referee was good and I cannot complain for once.”
Warnock also refused to castigate Julian Speroni, who got a hand to Mata’s shot, but could not keep it out.
“Julian will be disappointed, but he’s saved us so many times over the years,” Warnock said of the long-serving Palace goalkeeper.