"Stay f-----g onside," Harry Maguire implored. No amount of PR firefighting from Marcus Rashford's camp can conceal the invective he was filmed replying with in the 69th minute at Selhurst Park.

In mist that thickened into fog, Rashford's vision was not the only one impaired and he was flagged offside again in added time. Rashford had already let the ball roll under his studs for a throw-in in front of the Manchester United dugout, letting out a howl of despair.

Rashford must have wished he could vanish into a fog so thick the game required an orange ball .There was an air of resignation about Rashford and he might as well have substituted himself, for his manager never considered hauling him off.

Rashford's performance level has been poor for much of a season he has still tallied 18 goals in and he is the only player to have appeared in every United game. Luton away and Brighton away in the Carabao Cup, Watford in the FA Cup, Real Sociedad in a dead-rubber: he has ticked them all off. That's 42 club games before the clocks have gone forward.

Rashford reacted angrily to Maguire
Rashford reacted angrily to Maguire

He is not the only one being run into the ground. Bruno Fernandes has missed two games all season and has been outright rested for one game.

Against Watford in January, Fernandes reported at United's Carrington training complex, drove to Old Trafford, took the coach to The Lowry, killed time in a hotel for a few hours before he was ferried to a stadium for a warm-up and then sat in a cold stadium watching a mundane FA Cup tie. That is not a mental rest and barely a physical one. Fernandes needs a night on the sofa with his wife and two children, switching on Hey Duggee to switch off.

United had callow attackers in reserve at Crystal Palace and it was predictable Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned to the goal-getting instincts of Scott McTominay and Daniel James over teenagers Amad and Shola Shoretire.

"We had Marcus out there, Mason [Greenwood] out there, Bruno out there," Solskjaer explained. "Scotty came on to give us a goal thrust and almost had a chance straight away.

"We put Dan on for some pace and with those out there that’s most of our goals that we’ve had. Of course, we had Shola or Amad but which one of those five would you take off? That was my quandary in the last 10 or 15 minutes but I felt in Mason, Bruno, Marcus, they could get a goal. Scotty and Dan actually had a chance each when they came on."

In this surreal season, a team that scored nine in a game barely a month ago has stopped scoring. United, the Premier League's highest scorers at the start of the week, have suffered six goalless draws in the league this season and failed to score in seven of their 27 fixtures.

The stale stalemate at Crystal Palace marked United's third successive goalless draw and the last time they went four games without scoring was in November 1992. Nineteen days after a League Cup defeat by Aston Villa, Eric Cantona was paraded at Old Trafford.

Robbie Earle tackles Darren Ferguson in Wimbledon's 1-0 win at United in 1992
Robbie Earle tackles Darren Ferguson in Wimbledon's 1-0 win at United in 1992

United are short of just one more piece of the jigsaw. Fernandes, widely likened to Cantona, has not turned up against the 'big six' sides this season and in the one game he scored against Tottenham he was substituted at half-time following a dressing room quarrel with United 4-1 down.

Every fortnight, United's summer transfer priority changes. Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire wilted like a bunch of roses on Valentine's Day at West Brom and it has been apparent all season they require an athletic centre-back. Now the emphasis is on a long-term striker and Ed Woodward was visibly exasperated by the defending and attacking at Selhurst.

Edinson Cavani is 35 next year and United would generate more movement if they planted a tree up front than the statuesque striker Anthony Martial. Realistically, United can address only one of the areas with an eminent signing in the close season, never mind the midfielder and right winger they also need.

Manchester City's defence is so miserly they have conceded almost half the amount of goals United have in the league this season. Sunday is the meeting of the 21s - City's 21 successive victories against United's 21 away league games unbeaten. That record - stretching back to January of last year - has never been in greater jeopardy than against the champions-elect.

"We’re not happy if you don’t create chances enough to win a game, of course," Solskjaer lamented at Selhurst Park. "It’s been a week with no goals and sometimes three games sounds a lot without scoring.

"We’ve not conceded, either, but a week in a season like this… sometimes you just don’t hit the form that you’ve had for many, many months, so it’s a bit of a worry, of course it is."

Solskjaer needs to get some fans back onside.