PRESTON NORTH END 1, MAN UNITED 3
Manchester United had an almighty scare at League One club Preston North End before claiming their place in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and a glamour tie against holders Arsenal.
The Reds were forced to do it the hard way battling back after Scott Laird had given the Lilywhites the lead early in the second half.
Louis van Gaal’s side displayed resilience and goals from Ander Herrera, Marouane Felliani and Wayne Rooney in the final quarter of the game saw them home after an uncomfortable night at Deepdale.
United were far from convincing, though, as they struggled against lower-league opponents for the third time in this year’s competition as they toiled to get past Yeovil and Cambridge United.
However, the success at Preston stretched United’s unbeaten run to seven games and they have lost only once in 19 matches since early November.
Fellaini admitted it was an awkward night declaring: “It was very difficult, very difficult and we knew it would be like that. We won and that was important.
“The substitution was important and we knew the quality (Ashley) Young has with his crossing and getting forward.
“I scored and I am happy. Playing Arsenal is always a great game.”
Dutchman van Gaal praised his side’s second-half fightback saying: “We were unlucky to fall behind as the ball deviated.
“After that we showed team spirit which was unbelievable. We changed the system and that was the solution.”
Van Gaal was also not too displeased with the first-half showing adding: “I was reasonably satisfied. We didn’t give anything away.
“It was always difficult in such a game with long balls and fights between our defenders and (Kevin) Davies, but we didn’t give away one chance.”
Van Gaal pushed Rooney back up front after a spell in midfield as he partnered Radamel Falcao up front.
But it was not until Colombian Falcao was taken off after an hour and Fellaini pushed up top that United came alive with Preston struggling to deal with the big Belgian.
The opening half was dull and dreary as United failed to muster a goal attempt on target, despite enjoying 71 per-cent of possession. Their build-up play was slow and laborious with the best chance a free kick from Angel Di Maria which whistled just past the upright.
Deepdale was rocking little over two minutes after the restart when wing-back Laird, overlapping on the left, found the net with a shot from the left of the box which took a deflection off Antonio Valencia as it squirmed under the body of keeper David De Gea.
Preston might have doubled their lead as Joe Garner forced a diving save from De Gea as United were wobbling.
Young had only been on the pitch for five minutes when he provided the assist for the equaliser as Herrera scored his fifth goal in his fifth start of the season.
There was controversy, though, as Preston claimed Rooney, who was standing in an offside position, had impeded keeper Thorsten Stuckmann.
United took the lead for the first time in the 72nd minute when Valencia made a forward burst and crossed from the byline to the far post. Fellaini’s header was parried by Stuckmann and reacted quickest to fire into the roof of the net.
Preston were unhappy again claiming Fellaini nudged defender Tom Clarke before he made the initial header.
And United sealed victory with less than three minutes left when they won a penalty after Stuckmann was adjudged to have brought down Rooney as he burst clear down the left.
Again Preston were unhappy with television replays suggesting there was no contact and Rooney was looking for a penalty which he rifled into the roof of the net.
Preston kept plugging away and almost scored a second goal in stoppage time when Laird’s header was parried by De Gea and Young cleared the danger with a goalline clearance as they fought to the bitter end and were a credit to League One.
But it was United’s class which eventually told as they reached the quarter finals for the sixth time in the last nine seasons.