Manchester United dodge another Cup upset against Preston

Dubious penalty wraps up comeback win for Van Gaal’s side, Arsenal await in last eight

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney (left) celebrates with  team mate Marouane Fellaini (right) after scoring the third against   Preston North End   at  Deepdale. Photograph: Peter Powell / EPA

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney (left) celebrates with team mate Marouane Fellaini (right) after scoring the third against Preston North End at Deepdale. Photograph: Peter Powell / EPA

 

Preston North End 1 Manchester United 3

A comfortable scoreline, Wayne Rooney on the scoresheet and hostilities renewed in the quarter-finals with Arsenal. The bottom line suggests it is just like old times for Manchester United, when the reality, as Louis van Gaal surely knows, is completely different. It needed all of United’s resolve, character and a dubious penalty call – Rooney was not touched by the Preston goalkeeper – to overcome North End at Deepdale.

Van Gaal’s team were a goal down to their League One hosts and staring at a second humiliating cup exit of the Dutchman’s debut season when Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Rooney staged a crucial comeback. Rooney’s goal, his first since St Stephen’s Day, was converted emphatically from the penalty spot but arrived courtesy of a harsh decision from referee Phil Dowd.

Deepdale was sold out for the first meeting between these two old north-west rivals since two goals from Alan Gowling gave a Manchester United side containing Law, Charlton and Best a 2-0 victory in the FA Cup fourth round 43 years ago. With almost 5,000 United supporters in the Bill Shankly Stand, Preston commemorating the one-year anniversary of Tom Finney’s death and the quarter-final draw shown live on a giant screen inside the ground, the atmosphere was fully charged by kickoff. It was not only the United end that celebrated the prospect of a home tie with Arsenal in the last eight.

Van Gaal took few selection risks as he sought to preserve United’s last realistic hope of silverware this season, although a rare start for Herrera – his future clearly under threat by the manager’s desire to sign a creative central midfielder this summer – was a surprise. The former Athletic Bilbao midfielder was initially stationed out on the right before drifting inside to his more natural position, Fellaini assumed an advanced role against Preston’s strong back three and, and at long last, Rooney was deployed alongside Radamel Falcao in attack.

United’s intent was evident in their early approach as well as their teamsheet. The visitors dominated possession from the start, seeking to exploit the space behind Preston’s wing-backs through the pace of Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw, but a lack of quality with the final ball meant Simon Grayson’s team went unpunished. Angel Di Maria and Rooney were frequent culprits and on the few occasions United did create an opening, determined defending from Preston stood in their way. Di Maria was closest to giving the Premier League side the half-time lead over their League One hosts with a free-kick that dipped over Preston’s wall but dropped inches wide of Thorsten Stuckmann’s left hand post. Otherwise, the home goalkeeper was rarely troubled before the interval or he was expertly protected. John Welsh threw himself in the way of a goalbound shot from Rooney after Shaw had picked out the striker with an inviting cross from the byline.

When Di Maria produced a rare moment of class to release Falcao inside the area, and the Colombia forward squared for Rooney in front of goal, the defender, Bailey Wright, intervened with a superbly-timed challenge. Preston were too often on the back foot to pose a genuine threat to David De Gea’s goal and needed more adventure from the wing-backs, Scott Laird and Chris Humphrey, to disrupt United. With Kevin Davies making his presence felt, however, too much for the liking of the referee, Phil Dowd, when he careered through Herrera to collect the game’s first booking, Preston improved as the first half wore on. Joe Garner’s header over the bar from a Paul Gallagher free-kick was as near as they came to a first-half lead.

More adventure was evidently Grayson’s half-time request judging by Preston’s committed start to the second half. United’s defence, given scant protection with only Daley Blind on defensive midfield duties, offered them encouragement.

Humphrey attacked down the right within seconds of the restart and forced Valencia to hack clear. The pressure returned down Preston’s left. Garner invited Scott Laird to attack space on the edge of the United penalty area and the wing-back, punched to the floor by a fan following Stevenage’s defeat of Newcastle United in 2011, drove everything he had through a low shot towards the far corner. Laird’s strike took a slight deflection off Valencia but that did not excuse De Gea’s weak attempt at a save as the ball sailed beyond his grasp.

Van Gaal reacted by replacing the anonymous and off-the-pace Falcao with Ashley Young. The switch, that included Di Maria moving to the right, paid swift dividends as an injection of pace into the United attack forced Preston to sit deep. Too deep as it transpired. Six minutes after his introduction Young was free on the right of the home penalty area and squared to Herrera. The Basque appeared to get the ball caught under his feet but managed to send a low shot beyond Stuckmann off the inside of a post.

Moments later Davies escaped a second booking of the night for a foul on Chris Smalling. United’s protests were still in full flow when Fellaini secured their place in the quarter-finals, heading Valencia’s floated cross at goal and reacting quickest when Stuckmann saved to drive the rebound into the roof of the net. Rooney’s spot-kick eased United’s anxieties for the closing stages.

Guardian Service

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