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Joy of six as United hit their pitch but fans' anger persists

Tranmere Rovers 0 Manchester United 6

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Manchester United's Phil Jones. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Manchester United's Phil Jones. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Manchester United's Phil Jones. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

On a mud-pile of a pitch, there was an expectation that Manchester United might slip up and that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be buried. But they picked their way past Tranmere with a rare nimbleness.

On such an uneven pitch and in such an uneven season, United finally found a little equilibrium.

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Tranmere Rovers' Emmanuel Monthe (left) and Manchester United's Mason Greenwood battle for the ball. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Tranmere Rovers' Emmanuel Monthe (left) and Manchester United's Mason Greenwood battle for the ball. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

Tranmere Rovers' Emmanuel Monthe (left) and Manchester United's Mason Greenwood battle for the ball. Photo: Simon Cooper/PA Wire

They found that on the pitch, but not off it, because there was more anger aimed at the United owners - the Glazer family - and at least one disgusting chant again about Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, who is increasingly becoming the focus for the frustration.

Defeat here was unthinkable for United, and Solskjaer knew that; which is why, despite making six changes, he put out a strong team despite such a heavy schedule.

This was against a side struggling in 21st place in League One and who had gone through 120 minutes on this appalling pitch only on Thursday night to knock out Watford's youngsters. It was strange that manager Micky Mellon named an unchanged line-up.

Context

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Tranmere Rovers' Connor Jennings in action with Manchester United's Andreas Pereira. Photo: Reuters/Scott Heppell

Tranmere Rovers' Connor Jennings in action with Manchester United's Andreas Pereira. Photo: Reuters/Scott Heppell

Tranmere Rovers' Connor Jennings in action with Manchester United's Andreas Pereira. Photo: Reuters/Scott Heppell

To add a bit more context, United were up against a team with a 38-year-old at the heart of defence - Peter Clarke - and two 37-year-olds, David Perkins and Neil Danns, in midfield, and who had conceded seven goals this time last year in this competition to Spurs.

It could have been seven again, or eight or nine, such was United's dominance after scoring five times in the first half. They settled for six and made some small pieces of history: this was only the second time that they had six different scorers in a match - the previous being when they beat Wolves 10-1 in 1892, as Newton Heath.

It was their biggest win since beating Nottingham Forest 8-1 in February, 1999 when Solskjaer was a player and scored four goals. Life was easier then for the Norwegian.

Even more remarkable, maybe, for United fans, were the identities of some of the scorers. Harry Maguire and Diogo Dalot claimed their first goals for the club. Jesse Lingard's goal was his first in 42 games. Even Phil Jones (right) scored.

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The sight of Jones in the opening 10 minutes suggested the story might have been very different, however. The defender was booked, bullied by journeyman striker Morgan Ferrier and looked like he had been dragged through the mud which he pretty much had been on this pitch with its ruts and divots and with the ball not rolling properly. The covers had been on up to an hour before kick-off but it looked awful, an arena for a giant-killing. Instead, United did the slaying. They scored three goals in six minutes with a rare efficiency - their first six shots on target produced goals.

For the first, Maguire strode forward, pushing the ball away from Perkins before striking a powerful, rising drive from 25 yards that caught out goalkeeper Scott Davies, who went on to have a torrid time.

Three minutes later, Dalot, making a rare start, cut in from the right to cleverly beat Liam Ridehalgh and angle a crisp right-foot shot across Davies and into the net. Three minutes after that, Lingard received the ball outside the area after another strong run from Maguire and, with no defender closing him down, he bent it right-footed around Davies.

Maybe there was a sliver of hope in that Tranmere had salvaged the same 3-0 early deficit at Vicarage Road to force the replay against Watford, but it quickly became impossible. There were two more goals - a header from a corner by Jones which looped over Davies and, just before half-time, Anthony Martial was allowed time and space to curl his shot from the corner of the area around the goalkeeper.

What a relief for Solskjaer - although the anti-Glazer and Woodward chants were raised again in the second half. Solskjaer was able to make changes ahead of Wednesday's Carabao Cup semi-final second leg at Manchester City, introducing Tahith Chong as a central striker. The 20-year-old Dutchman proved too quick for Davies as he burst into the area and was brought down by the goalkeeper.

There was a dispute over who should take the penalty. Andreas Pereira appeared to win that argument before Solskjaer sent Jones and Maguire to insist the ball was handed to Mason Greenwood. The 18-year-old scuffed his shot but Davies dived the other way and the forward claimed his 10th goal of the season. It meant he had scored in every competition he has played in this campaign.

It had been more uncomfortable listening for the United's hierarchy but at least, for once, it was a smooth afternoon on the pitch. Despite the mud being slung off it. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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