When Marouane Fellaini’s late header gave Manchester United a 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace, you sensed that it was a defining moment. The away support were so excited that they invaded the Selhurst Park pitch.
They knew that rivals Liverpool had to travel to champions Chelsea and get a win to keep the race alive. Although it was a valiant effort from the Reds, they fell short as they could only manage a draw.
It leaves United with a six-point advantage with two games to go and their significantly better goal difference means that they are all but guaranteed to be dining at Europe’s top table next season.
Louis van Gaal’s aim for his first season in charge from the beginning was to finish in the top four. Although they have not been convincing at times, United have achieved their main goal and deserve credit for that.
Unlike Liverpool, who failed at the same task, United can reflect on a season where they have successfully recovered after a shocking season under David Moyes.
Yes, United are a club who should be challenging for the title and yes, fourth place would be a major disappointment under Sir Alex Ferguson but the fact is they have massively rebuilt this season.
Settling in a new manager and six new signings in completely new systems is not an easy task but United have done an admirable job, even if it hasn’t been pretty football at times.
There have been signs in recent games that the tide is turning and they could challenge the likes of Chelsea next season for the title. Wins over Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham showed what United are capable of under van Gaal.
Once the rebuild gets fully completed this summer with five or six new faces, United will be a strong force to be reckoned with both domestically and in Europe.
They achieved their aim for this season and their next task is winning back the title.