Monday 18 December 2017

Manchester United put Cambridge in place after scare

Manchester United 3 Cambridge United 0

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata scores the opening goal of the FA Cup fourth round replay against Cambridge United at Old Trafford. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata scores the opening goal of the FA Cup fourth round replay against Cambridge United at Old Trafford. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney breaks clear of Cambridge United's Richard Tait during their FA Cup fourth round replay at Old Trafford. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Marcos Rojo heads in Manchester United's second goal in their FA Cup fourth round replay against Cambridge United at Old Trafford. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Manchester United striker Robin van Persie shoots past Cambridge United's Josh Coulson during their FA Cup fourth round replay against Cambridge United at Old Trafford. Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
James Wilson scores Manchester United's third goal in their FA Cup fourth round replay against Cambridge United at Old Trafford. Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Jamie Holland

The golden rule for those attempting an FA Cup giant-killing is you only live once. If you do not fell your giant with the first blow, you will get the money from the replay - in Cambridge's case, more than £1m - but not a place in the next round.

In recent seasons, Luton, Leyton Orient and Notts County have held Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City respectively to draws and lost the return matches by a collective scoreline of 15-0. Cambridge did rather better than a five-goal defeat and their players have their stories.

Josh Coulson can talk of how he cleared off the line from Angel di Maria. Chris Dunn had his double save from Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Tom Elliott could have scored at the Stretford End.

Instead, James Wilson, one of the great hopes of Manchester United's youth policy, wrapped the match up in front of Old Trafford's most iconic stand.

Cambridge may have the tales and the sort of money that will transform the club but Manchester United have a fifth-round tie at Preston.

Apart from Luke Chadwick, who briefly played for Manchester United against Bayern Munich here and earned a £10,000 substitute's bonus for so doing, the night would have been full of the unfamiliar for the visitors.

The extent of the Old Trafford pitch that stretched out before them as they walked out of the tunnel, the sight of stands rising giddyingly above them and the fact that a match involving Cambridge United had been delayed because of crowd congestion.

Some 64 coaches and 6,500 fans had set off from East Anglia to the Theatre of Dreams, a mobilisation which had proved too much for Manchester's creaking transport system.

And yet a minute after the delayed kick-off came the stuff of wild fantasy. Tom Elliott found himself advancing towards the Stretford End with just David de Gea to beat.

The striker tried to curl the ball round De Gea rather than simply blasting it goalwards and the shot kissed the outside of the post.

As Elliott trotted back to the halfway line he would have suspected, very strongly, that the chance for the great upset had come and gone.

The scare would have confirmed all of Van Gaal's suspicions. It might not have been a coincidence that transfer deadline day saw a number of those footballers who had been humiliated in the League Cup at Milton Keynes leave Old Trafford. The goalless draw at the Abbey Stadium might have made up the Manchester United manager's mind about a few others.

Humbling

While Alex Ferguson, who had been held to humbling goalless draws by Burton and Exeter in the FA Cup, might have trusted to youth at Old Trafford, Van Gaal was not prepared to take chances.

Yes, there was Paddy McNair at right-back but instead of Wilson and Adnan Januzaj in attack, there was Angel di Maria, Juan Mata, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney - around £145m worth of footballers trying to smash down a defence that did not command a transfer fee between them.

Early on, the England captain looked the busiest of the four on the edge of the area.

One attempt at a shot ended with a fine tackle from Michael Nelson, the other was comfortably saved by Dunn, who five years ago had been part of the Northampton side that knocked Liverpool out of the League Cup in Anfield's driving rain.

The skies above Old Trafford were clear and glacially cold. The outcome, too, was to be different.

If Cambridge were to pull off one of the greatest shocks in the history of the FA Cup - and this might have eclipsed Bradford's victory at Stamford Bridge - you imagined it was essential they scored first.

Twenty-four minutes after Elliott's miss and 115 after they had kicked off in Cambridge, Manchester United broke through and that, pretty much, was that.

A cross from Di Maria was headed across goal by Marouane Fellaini, who was to play a part in the second, and Mata, balletically, flicked it home.

Seven minutes later, it was two. Fellaini's shot was blocked, Van Persie chipped the ball back in and Marcos Rojo's header brought the Argentinian his first goal in a United shirt.

For Cambridge's brave footballers there was only one question: how many?

United added the third on 72 minutes.

Mata won a tackle in midfield, and fed Herrera. He burst forward and threaded a pass up to Wilson who shimmied to the left before fizzing a low shot into the right corner. (© Independent News Service)

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