Van Gaal eyes top-four finish after beating Palace

MANCHESTER - Manager Louis van Gaal believes Manchester United's chances of finishing among the English Premier League's top four remain in their own hands after they returned to winning ways against Crystal Palace.

United recorded a victory for the first time in four attempts, but they made hard work of their 1-0 triumph against a spirited but limited Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday.

"I am happy with the three points, and we stay in the race to end in the places that we want to be in," van Gaal said. "We stay two points behind fourth place. It's in our hands and that's important."

Juan Mata scored the decisive goal in the 67th minute, four minutes after being introduced as a substitute.

With Marcus Rojo, Rafael, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans all injured and Chris Smalling suspended, van Gaal was again forced to field an unfamiliar defence.

Paddy McNair and Daley Blind were chosen as central defensive partners, and they helped United keep a first clean sheet since the 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers on Sept 14.

Van Gaal said the improvement was not only due to the defence.

"It's not a matter of defence, it's a matter of organisation when we don't have the ball," said the Dutchman.

"It means that it's the whole team who have to defend. Today (Saturday), we were better in that shape."