Man United take wide route to earn Gunners cup showdown
Preston North End 1 Manchester United 3
Only when Manchester United rediscovered some of their old DNA, playing with width and passion, did they recover from pending humiliation at Deepdale.
Only when Ashley Young came on to give width down the left, and Antonio Valencia attacked down the right, did Louis van Gaal's side come from behind to beat Preston courtesy of goals from Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Wayne Rooney to set up a quarter-final with Arsenal at Old Trafford.
Until Young's arrival on the hour, United were trailing to Scott Laird's strike - a goal that will not make enjoyable reviewing for David De Gea.
The Premier League side were struggling to break down Preston's determined defence. Radamel Falcao was poor, and replaced by Young.
Young suddenly gave them an outlet and set up Herrera's goal which was etched with controversy as Rooney was distracting Preston goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
Valencia then supplied the width on the right lifting a ball in for Fellaini, whose first effort was saved by Stuckmann only for the Belgian to ram in the loose ball.
Rooney completed the comeback from the penalty spot, although again the case for video technology was advanced as it was difficult to discern any contact when the England captain was challenged by Stuckmann.
However, there was no debating the penalty, which Rooney thumped past Stuckmann.
Preston can reflect on a prodigious performance, certainly for an hour, before returning to their promotion push.
Even before Laird struck early in the second half, forcing United to dig deep and rally impressively, Deepdale had been quivering with excitement, which intensified before kick-off as the quarter-final draw was relayed over the huge screen above the United fans.
The visiting thousands in the Bill Shankly Kop took delight in the sight of Rooney playing in his preferred position, up top with Falcao, with Fellaini in the hole.
Rooney almost muscled his way through, running on to a pass from Angel Di Maria, but ran into a wall of white shirts. Deepdale oozed defiance.
The place was packed to the rafters, the Preston fans singing "there's only one David Moyes" and then paying a loud, emotional tribute to their greatest son who passed away a year and two days ago.
"There's only one Tom Finney" chorused the North End supporters at minute No 7.
The sides had first met in the Cup in 1890 when United were Newton Heath but this was their first encounter since 1972 when George Best, Bobby Charlton, Brian Kidd and Denis Law visited Deepdale. North End lost to two late Alan Gowling goals but did have the consolation of record gate receipts of £20,022. With television money, this tie was worth around £600,000 to Preston.
For Simon Grayson's men, nobody could put a price on this opportunity to stare down United. Their main focus is promotion from League One but their hunger was inescapable.
Grayson's players were so quick to close down Van Gaal's. John Welsh flew in strongly but fairly into a challenge on Di Maria, a League One stalwart introducing himself to a Champions League winner.
Preston were working overtime, Kevin Davies constantly dropping deep to help out his midfield.
The home team's No 9 even required a change of top, re-emerging with a shirt without a name or number. Not that United or referee Phil Dowd needed any additional information as to the perpetrator of the first bookable offence, an upending of Herrera.
Davies accepted the booking, and got on with hassling the distinguished guests.
Preston fans were loving their team's commitment. Howls of derision rolled down from the Alan Kelly Town End as Di Maria overhit a cross into their midst.
De Gea was caught out two minutes into the second period. When Davies fed Laird, the left wing-back let fly, the ball catching the tip of Valencia's boot. The goalkeeper would still have expected to have dealt with the shot but it powered its way through.
United were poor, lacking focus and dynamism. Di Maria took range from far out, leading to a simple save for Stuckmann, who then grasped the ball from under the feet of Fellaini.
The disappointing Falcao was replaced by Young, who had an immediate impact, picking out Herrera, who drove his shot in off the post.
Stuckmann was furious, rushing towards Dowd, arguing that Rooney was obstructing his vision which he clearly had been. The case for video technology was again enhanced.
Davies was then fortunate to stay on for another transgression, flattening Chris Smalling, as Dowd showing remarkable leniency.
United poured their anger into gaining the lead and their width paid off. Valencia crossed the ball from the right, and Fellaini scored at the second attempt, being the first to react after the goalkeeper had blocked his header.
Preston had a late chance when Callum Robinson's shot was held before Rooney made it 3-1 with three minutes remaining.
Rooney playing up top and United playing with more width is surely the way ahead for Van Gaal now. (© Daily Telegraph, London)