Wayne Rooney scored a stoppage-time penalty as Manchester United edged to a 1-0 FA Cup win over League One Sheffield United at Old Trafford.
United barely deserved a place in round four, but Rooney sent the goalkeeper the wrong way in the third minute of stoppage time after sub Memphis Depay had been brought down in the box by Dean Hammond.
For so long it looked like being the fourth time in six Old Trafford games the home fans would fail to see a goal, but Hammond’s rash challenge on Memphis allowed Rooney to snatch away the Blades’ hopes of a third-round replay.
Rooney and his United team-mates made a habit of scoring late goals for Sir Alex Ferguson and Van Gaal will be happy they still know how to dig themselves out of trouble at the end of matches.
This was not a victory the Red Devils deserved. At times it seemed the home supporters inside Old Trafford were on the verge of an open revolt against their manager. They cheered ironically when Matteo Darmian registered the hosts’ first shot on target in the 69th minute and thousands had already streamed out of Old Trafford by the time Rooney had scored from the spot.
The home supporters inside Old Trafford had every right to complain. Once again they did not get value for money from their players or their manager. Far from it. In truth, it was as bad a performance seen here this season.
Sheffield United began the day 46 places below the 20-time English champions in the league ladder. They have been beaten by Bury, Crewe and Colchester this season. Last week they lost 3-2 at home to Peterborough.
But the League One side never looked being defeated in this third round tie until Depay went down theatrically following a tackle by Hammond.
Van Gaal’s men mustered just one shot on target in the whole match and they only came to life when their manager brought on Depay and Jesse Lingard with half an hour to go.
Van Gaal had selected a strong line-up containing nine internationals, but they could not muster a single attempt on target in the opening 45 minutes.
Rooney plunged a long-range shot into the East Stand and then rounded the goalkeeper after a delicious ball from Darmian, but the Blades’ defence regrouped and blocked the striker’s path to goal.
A few home fans started urging their team to pass the ball forwards, but their calls fell on deaf ears. It was the same old stuff from Van Gaal’s men – sideways pass after sideways pass.
Shortly after Daley Blind had ploughed the ball into the stand, the half-time whistle blew and boos reverberated around Old Trafford.
It was the 10th successive home game that Manchester United had failed to score before the break – a damning statistic that demonstrates how boring the football has become at Old Trafford.
It was only when Depay and Lingard came off the bench that the hosts looked threatening.
The £25million Dutch winger fired a low shot just wide of Long’s goal, causing the home fans to rise to their feet and applaud ironically. Finally they had seen some attacking intent from their team.
And then with 21 minutes left, the hosts managed their first shot on target – a weak effort from Darmian.
The Blades held firm at the back as United launched attack after attack.
Depay came close with a low shot in the final minute, but many home fans were not around to see it. Thousands had already left, disappointed with what they had seen.
Those who stayed were relieved to see referee Jon Moss point to the penalty spot after contact between Hammond and Depay. Rooney sent Long the wrong way and put United into the fourth round.