When the FA Cup 3rd Round draw was made last month which saw United handed an away fixture with Yeovil Town, few would have backed The Glovers, currently placed last in League One, to pull off a Cupset. With 65 places between the two teams in the football league, the 11 time winners of the Cup, Manchester United, faced a routine visit to Somerset to secure their place in the 4th round. The draw marked the end of a run of 9 matches in which United had drawn top flight opponents in the Fa Cup, providing, on paper, a simpler fixture as the festive period came to close.
United manager Louis van Gaal therefore could be forgiven for choosing to leave key players Robin van Persie and Michael Carrick out of the match day squad, having started them for all of United’s festive fixtures. The line up, however, included enough attacking talent to suggest that Van Gaal was not willing to risk another early cup exit as suffered at the hands of Milton Keynes Dons in August; with Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao, and James Wilson all starting as United set up in a 3-4-1-2 shape, continuing as they have done for several weeks now. The tie saw FA Cup debuts for six of The Reds: McNair, Blackett, Herrera, Wilson, Falcao, and Di Maria.
Yeovil Town, having overcome Accrington Stanley in the replay of their 2nd round tie, and struggling in the league, hosted United at a sold out Huish Park of over 9,000 spectators with an air of excitement typified by the crowds of home supporters waiting outside the ground for the United team bus to arrive before the match. The occasion saw former United boss Sir Alex Ferguson arrive by helicopter, with United fans hoping for a dominant display.
Come kick off though, signs of wobbliness that have been ever-present this season shone through. United’s back three: Chris Smalling, Paddy McNair, and Tyler Blackett have come under scrutiny so far this season but lined up against a side that had only scored 5 home goals during the entire campaign – hardly a daunting prospect. In their first attack of the game though, a long ball over the top of the United defence saw Yeovil’s Kieffer Moore unmarked and free to challenge David De Gea for the high ball. A pause in play for treatment on Paddy McNair following a clash of heads merely halted and already sloppy affair. The slow start epitomised the rest of the half for United, with shots from Rooney and Herrera off target and a tame effort from James Wilson saved. The opening goal never looked like coming as passes went wayward and the final ball eluded them.
Half Time substitutions saw a change of shape for The Reds as Luke Shaw and Rafael were replaced by Juan Mata and Jonny Evans; the back three became a back four as Evans took up his favoured central defensive role while McNair and Blackett took up the right and left fullback positions respectively. The change seemed to have had little effect on United’s defensive potency however, with Jonny Evans failing to clear a ball into the box that landed at the feet of Moore who somehow managed to scuff his shot tamely towards David De Gea – a huge let off. The introduction on Angel Di Maria on his return from injury, shortly after, seemed to spark United into life as he injected the pace and willingness to run that had been lacking throughout the side in his absence. A fine volley on the turn by Ander Herrera eventually broke the deadlock in the 64th minute and should have been the moment to calm any nerves amongst the players that the tie might slip away from them; but far from it. Just minutes later, a thunderous header by Yeovil’s Edwards was cleared off the line by Di Maria as United continued to look fragile against the League One side. Ironically, it may have been this moment that finally urged the players to guard against complacency, as a healthy period of keep-ball somewhat smothered the prospect of a Yeovil comeback, even with the crowd still backing them admirably. A lovely long ball from Rooney, following a free kick from the home team, released Angel Di Maria for a one-on-one with Jed Steer. The Argentine lofted a cute lob over the Yeovil stopper to seal the result for The Red Devils.
An unconvincing performance but a positive result nevertheless. Returning from injury, Di Maria looked sharp and the game time will have helped in his attempts to rebuild match fitness. A Shame not to have seen Januzaj on his return from illness after a brief appearance against Stoke. Worryingly, Louis van Gaal has confirmed following the match that Luke Shaw and Rafael were substituted due to injuries, suggesting that Rafael had been playing with a fractured cheekbone. But ending on a positive note, the manager had this to say, “We can be very happy because the players are coming back now. Di Maria is coming back, Blind is coming back, Rojo is coming back.”. We hope to see Blind and Rojo feature soon, especially if we are to be without other defensive options.
United XI: De Gea, Smalling, McNair, Blackett, Rafael, Fletcher, Herrera, Rooney, Shaw, Wilson, Falcao
United Subs: Lindegaard, Evans, Anderson, Lingard, Mata, Januzaj, Di Maria.
Referee: Craig Pawson