A lacklustre Manchester United saw off Sheffield United 1-0, courtesy of a 93rd minute penalty by captain Wayne Rooney, in a turgid FA Cup third round tie at Old Trafford. Substitute Memphis won the penalty after a senseless lunge from Hammond, right at the end; it was cruel on Sheffield United who probably deserved a replay.
Before the penalty it was looking like becoming United’s SEVENTH 0-0 draw at home in all competitions this season and it was yet another first half without any goals for Manchester United, the tenth in a row at Old Trafford in all competitions – a run stretching back to September; Juan Mata scored a penalty against Wolfsburg. In fact the last time United scored a first half goal from open play was previous to that, when Memphis scored against Sunderland. To think that win put United top of the Premier League, after consecutive 3-0 wins…. Today, however, there weren’t even any shots on target in the first 45, let alone goals!
Sheffield United set up with a 4-4-2 formation but, as expected, looked to soak up pressure, allowing Manchester United to have the ball. Sheffield United, indeed, actually had the first shot on target in the 67th minute. The Old Trafford faithful were actually sarcastically cheering shots from Memphis in the second half!
The United performance was not as a result of taking Sheffield United for granted with team selection however; Louis van Gaal fielded a strong side, with only 3 changes to the side that beat Swansea seven days previously. (The average in the 3pm kick offs for Premier League sides was 6 and Liverpool had made a whole host of changes on Friday night, nearly bowing out to League Two side Exeter City.)
Van Gaal was clearly intent on progressing in a tournament that most United fans have now prioritised for the season. Leeds United’s win at Old Trafford in 2010 was Manchester United’s only defeat in 36 FA Cup ties against lower league opposition, before today, and Van Gaal could not afford to let Sheffield United make it 2 defeats in 37!
Large sections of the Old Trafford faithful will now, despite the win, be hoping that Van Gaal is NOT given the opportunity to be the Manchester United manager in the Fourth Round…