Cambridge earn Old Trafford replay against Manchester United

Louis van Gaal’s side slow and sluggish against League Two side

Cambridge United 0 Manchester United 0

One has to wonder what the reception to this performance would have been were David Moyes still in charge of Manchester United. Louis van Gaal may have been all jokes before this engrossing FA Cup tie but the mood had certainly turned by full time here following a terribly ponderous display.

United were slow and sluggish and, despite dominating the tie, lacked the creativity in midfield to unpick a team who currently sit 12th in League Two.

Conditions were admittedly tough, the wind swirling and the crowd on top of the pitch, yet Van Gaal’s men should have expected such challenges beforehand and been prepared to face opponents content on merely having numbers behind the ball.


Ángel Di María and Radamel Falcao both played in the previous round at Yeovil, a game of similar type. Adnan Januzaj could not seize on a first start since November. Instead it was Ryan Donaldson who shone in the first half, a former England under-19 international whose last club was Gateshead.

The service to Falcao was limited throughout and the one clear chance he had, following a ball from Michael Carrick, forced a fine save from Chris Dunn. Di María, meanwhile, made little impact during the tie, sending one shot sailing over a stand in the first half.

This was the kind of night where United needed fortitude as well as finesse. The 75 league places between the two sides were not reflected in a first half when Cambridge had their opponents flustered on a number of occasions, often Marcos Rojo the only defender who appeared unmoved by the hostile surroundings while his colleagues squandered possession waywardly.

Even Rojo’s performance deteriorated, the Argentinian ballooning a woeful ball forward straight out of play at the start of the second half.

The rafters at the Abbey Stadium were shaking for almost the whole match. It was an evening when ticketless supporters desperate for entry slipped in through the gates and surged into the yellow and black swaths to the sanctuary of anonymity.

Manchester United were in town but Richard Money’s side were certainly not overawed by the prospect. From the early nutmeg attempt from Donaldson on Daley Blind – he pulled off the feat 15 minutes later at the second try – to Sullay Kaikai’s jinking run into the penalty area, it was evident from an early stage that Van Gaal’s men were in for a tough game.

Cambridge played with admirable poise and spirit during a first half where they could, and possibly should, have taken the lead. The pressure increased late on but they stood tall.

In the bowels of the ground, in a room decked out in paraphernalia from pre-season foreign tours at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund among other clubs, read the message: “We want players who are; Tough, Determined, Disciplined and Committed.” They delivered those qualities in spades against the millionaires of the Premier League, containing the white wave admirably and often appearing dangerous on the counter.

Pictures of John Ruddy, the England and Norwich City goalkeeper, dominate the interior of Cambridge's stadium, the club's most notable recent graduate who they believe epitomises the attributes of discipline and commitment that are so celebrated here.

Despite having only 28 per cent possession in the first half, Cambridge left the field the more satisfied of the two teams. Josh Coulson could have given his side the lead but Manchester United's early malaise is a trend that has repeated in recent times – they have scored only one first-half goal in the last six matches.

Not even the introduction of Robin van Persie and Ander Herrera could provide a telling piece of quality. Van Persie fired over in the 70th minute, as the yellow and black wall was breached, but the pressure was too little too late for the visitors.

Cambridge, with a lucrative replay in their sights, did everything to hang on, even testing David De Gea from a late corner. It was an uncomfortable night that Manchester United will not remember fondly.

(Guardian service)