PRESTON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Manchester United survived a scare against third tier Preston North End to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 3-1 win at Deepdale on Monday.
Louis Van Gaal’s star-studded side were in danger of an embarrassing fifth round exit when the unheralded hosts took a shock lead early in the second half through Scott Laird.
Not for the first time this season, United lacked cohesion for long periods of the game, but they responded to the indignity of Laird’s goal with enough composure to finally subdue the underdogs.
Ander Herrera’s fortuitous strike levelled the scores just after the hour mark before Marouane Fellaini put United ahead after 72 minutes.
Wayne Rooney made the tie safe with a late penalty to set up a fascinating last eight tie at home to Arsenal on the weekend of March 7 and 8.
“I was reasonably satisfied. The fights between Kevin Davies and the defenders were difficult but we didn’t give anything away,” van Gaal said.
“Preston’s goal was a little bit unlucky but we showed an unbelievable team spirit. We changed the shape and that was the solution.
“We scored fantastic goals. I liked the second goal a lot, we have trained that a lot.”
There was little sign of inferiority from Preston in the first half as they acquitted themselves well, just as Yeovil and Cambridge, United’s lower league opponents in the previous two rounds, had also refused to buckle against supposedly superior rivals.
One criticism levelled at United under van Gaal is a lack of panache in attack and the trait was evident in the first half as Grayson’s team kept them at bay.
Angel Di Maria’s dipping free-kick went wide after John Welsh’s heavy challenge on Radamel Falcao 25 yards out and that was about as close as the visitors came to troubling Preston goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann before the break.
Promising moments ended when Rooney and Daley Blind overhit final passes, much to the delight of the home fans.
Preston’s players were also encouraged and they enjoyed attacking flurries of their own.
Joe Garner, Preston’s top scorer with 14 goals, hit a low shot straight at David De Gea before heading over from Paul Gallagher’s inswinging free-kick.
No team has won this competition more times than United but their 11th and most recent triumph came in 2004, and none of the current squad has won the Cup during their time at Old Trafford.
Yet Preston reached half-time with relative comfort and things got even better two minutes after the break when they took the lead.
Garner’s pass found Laird overlapping from left-wing back and his shot hit Antonio Valencia’s outstretched leg and squirmed past De Gea in off the far post.