Preston North End 1 Manchester United 3 (Half-time 0-0)
While Manchester United could hardly be said to be sweeping away all before them in both the Premier League and the FA Cup this season, Louis van Gaal's men are still proving to be quietly efficient in the manner in which they continue to keep their ambitions alive. While it would be a long shot at best to suggest that they harbour genuine title ambitions this term, standing twelve points behind leaders Chelsea at present, the minimum requirement for the Dutchman of Champions League qualification for next season still remains in sight. They are also now just two matches away from the final of the FA Cup after last night's 3-1 victory at Deepdale against Preston.
After a largely uninspiring first-half, where the home side seemed content to keep their powder dry for an assault after the break, United controlled the game without creating much offensively to worry Simon Grayson's side.
The tie came to life shortly after the interval though, when the by now far more threatening home side took the lead two minutes in, after Scott Laird had been played into a gaping defensive hole down United's right flank. Laird ran on and struck a firm shot across the keeper David de Gea, with a slight deflection off a defender unsettling the Spanish keeper, such that he allowed the ball under his body and into the net.
The Lilywhites maintained their advantage until the 65th minute, when an incisive move by the visitors resulted in a shot by Ander Herrera just creeping into the corner of the net, as Wayne Rooney eased his way out of the path of the ball from what would have been an offside position. The referee ruled that the England captain was not interfering with play and the goal stood, yet keeper Thorsten Stuckmann appeared to delay his dive to see what Rooney would do.
With United and substitute Ashley Young especially by now in full flow, the lively winger was agriculturally taken off the ball by the defence. The resultant free-kick on the edge of the box came to nothing though.
The Red Devils were taking command of the game by now and went in front through Marouane Fellaini at the second attempt. Antonio Valencia freed himself down the by-line and his cross was headed goalwards by the tall Belgian. Stuckmann parried the attempt but Fellaini gleefully buried the rebound.
Preston poured forward in search of the equaliser that would have forced a replay back at Old Trafford , but seemed to rush attempts on goal when they were in space. United made them pay two minutes before time, when Rooney escaped the clutches of the defence and gained a penalty as the keeper lunged at him with his feet on the edge of the box. Despite protests that he had not been touched at all, the referee concurred with the away side's viewpoint and Rooney coolly stroked home the decider.
There was no way back for Preston, despite their valiant attempts right to the final whistle and the game ended 3-1 to United. United now face Arsenal in an all Premier League quarter-final at Old Trafford.
Grayson was gracious in defeat afterwards, denying suggestions that Rooney had dived for the penalty in his opinion. However, he did believe that "there was no contact" made on Rooney, but determined that was because he was taking "evasive action" to avoid being caught by the advancing keeper. #Celebrities #Football