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Mata strike sees off Norwich

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 07-05-2016 skysports.com

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Getty
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Juan Mata was the hero as Manchester United beat Norwich City 1-0 to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League. 

The visitors took a crucial three points when Wayne Rooney played in Mata and the Spain international kept his cool to beat John Ruddy with a close-range finish after 72 minutes.

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As a result, United moved to within just a point of city-rivals Manchester City in the fourth and final Champions League berth with just two games left to play this campaign, while Norwich remain two points from safety in 19th.

Norwich boss Alex Neil opted to stick with the same XI who lost 1-0 at Arsenal last Saturday, despite the strugglers having failed to score in nine of the 14 Premier League matches leading up to this contest

United, meanwhile, opted to rest both Danny Blind - who has been a virtual ever present in their team so far this season - and young striker Marcus Rashford with a crucial trip to Champions League-chasing rivals West Ham to come on Tuesday.

However, Louis van Gaal's side suffered an injury blow even before the match had started when top-scorer Anthony Martial pulled his hamstring in the warm-up, with Ander Herrera coming into replace the France attacker.

And that untimely setback appeared to disrupt United as their opponents dominated a tense and error-strewn first half, albeit without making that crucial breakthrough on a balmy afternoon in East Anglia.

The Canaries' best chance came after just four minutes when the lively Nathan Redmond got to the left-hand byline, before standing an inviting cross up for Cameron Jerome, only for the striker to place his header too close to David De Gea.

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United, who also lost left-back Matteo Darmian to an early ankle injury after an innocuous-looking clash with Ivo Pinto, barely threatened the Norwich goal before the break.

In fact, the closest the visitors came to scoring in the first period was when Chris Smalling somehow headed Juan Mata's right-wing corner over the bar from only three yards out just before the half-hour mark.

The second half was an equally disjointed affair, that is until United broke the deadlock with 18 minutes to go after another misjudgement from Norwich centre-back Sebastien Bassong.

The experienced Cameroon international failed to cut out a simple ball over the top for Wayne Rooney and despite seeming to waste the opportunity, United's captain kept his composure to set up Mata for his ninth goal of the campaign, and his fifth league strike against Norwich.

Norwich reacted to falling behind by introducing Patrick Bamford to join both Jerome and Dieumerci Mbokani - who came on just after the hour-mark - in a three-man forward line.

However, the Canaries' struggles in front of goal continued in the closing stages as they failed to create any clear-cut openings to draw themselves level.

Player ratings

Norwich City: Ruddy (6); Pinto (6), Martin (6), Bassong (5), Olsson (6); Redmond (7), Howson (6), O'Neil (6), Brady (6); Hoolahan (5); Jerome (6)

Used subs: Mbokani (6), Bamford (6), Dorrans (6)

Manchester United: De Gea (7); Valencia (8), Smalling (8), Rojo (6), Darmian (6); Carrick (7), Herrera (6), Rooney (6); Mata (9), Lingard (7), Memphis (6)

Used subs: Borthwick-Jackson (7), Fosu-Mensah (6), Schneiderlin (6)

Man of the Match: Juan Mata.

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