Wayne Rooney scored the goal of his life last week in the Manchester derby but was brought back down to earth by non-league opponents in the Cup. As were Manchester United, who even allowing for wholesale changes were embarrassingly ordinary.
Rooney was only sent on for the second half in an attempt to beef up an anaemic showing from the home attacking players in the first period, but though he rescued the City game from near anonymity he was unable to do anything with this one. He made little or no difference, becoming increasingly frustrated at his impotence, and ended up being booked for a petulant and unnecessary foul on Kyle McFadzean. United were massively grateful that Richard Brodie could only head against the bar in stoppage-time, for a Crawley equaliser would not have been undeserved.
In the end the Premier League side scraped through by virtue of a goal from a defender at a set piece. It was hardly what had been imagined, and if this outcome was an impressive advertisement for Conference standards it was a dismal one for United's strength in depth.
The first half-hour was short on incident, but there was no suggestion the romance had disappeared from the FA Cup. The idea that United's reserves could roll over a Conference team with ease was exposed as a fairy tale for a start. For quite a long time both teams looked equally undistinguished, with Gabriel Obertan and Bebe barely making a case for being let loose on Premier League opponents any time soon, and though Crawley were not exactly making the United defence sweat either they at least managed a couple of credible goal attempts through Ben Smith and Craig McAllister before the home side scored.
Michael Kuipers in the Crawley goal had not really been required to do anything up to that point, though he had been grateful to see McFadzean smother a Javier Hernandez chance to concede the corner that led to the goal. Darron Gibson played it short to Obertan, received the return and sent over a cross from the left, and Wes Brown rose to glance a header into the far corner.
That eased the pressure that had quietly been building on United -- the 9,000 travelling fans were not slow to let the home crowd know what they thought of their lack of noise -- and the Premier League team could have scored again before the interval when Fabio shot wide and a stinging drive from Obertan brought a good save from Kuipers. On the pitch at half-time Matthew Hatton, brother of Ricky, predicted the floodgates would open in the second half. The jeers from the Crawley end indicated United might have to bring Rooney on first.
The England striker duly appeared for the second half in place of the ineffective Anderson, Alex Ferguson either feeling that Crawley's supporters deserved something more memorable for their money or that he needed to reciprocate Steve Evans's gesture in spending more than £1,000 from his own pocket on a bottle of red to present to his fellow Scot.
Unless he was simply appalled at the feebleness of his side's first-half attacking efforts and concerned that Crawley might come back into the tie.
Rooney was soon into action, combining well with Obertan to bring a low cross that Pablo Mills did well to intercept, even if his overall influence on the game was negligible.
Crawley won individual battles all over the pitch, Jamie Cook making John O'Shea look quite silly on one occasion, though the sum of their efforts was a David Hunt shot that went narrowly wide and an attempted overhead kick from Tubbs that flew over Anders Lindegaard's bar and was anyway deemed dangerous play by the officials. That seemed harsh, considering Rooney had scored in exactly the same way at the same end last week, and it was only the fact that Brown tried to get to the ball, whereas City defenders in the derby stood and watched, that marked one incident out from the other. It is never easy being underdogs, though Brodie should have done better in the closing seconds with Crawley's best chance.
Sunday Indo Sport