Read a full match report of the FA Cup game between Manchester United v Crawley Town at Old Trafford on Saturday Feb 19 2011.
By Oliver Brown
Crawley’s convoy of coaches was reported to have taken a wrong turn in the Manchester traffic, delaying much of the travelling band’s arrival until just minutes before kick-off. Fortunately, their team did not start with quite the same haplessness. The earnestness with which Sir Alex Ferguson approached the task was shown by Wayne Rooney’s surprising inclusion among the substitutes – just in case this strange FA Cup tale had another twist.
Manchester United, understandably, had a slightly more jaundiced attitude to this match than their excitable guests. It promised, after all, to be a mere diversion ahead of an arduous and possibly season-defining sequence of trips to Marseille, Liverpool, Chelsea and Wigan. But Crawley were determined to present another test, and Ben Smith drew a puff of the cheeks from manager Steve Evans when his long-range shot drifted just over the bar of Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, making his Old Trafford debut.
Evans, his shorts somewhat belying the February chill, urged his men forward with zeal, his arms spinning in a windmill motion. The encouragement worked, as Crawley settled into a rhythm, set by their commanding captain, Pablo Mills. While Mills held together the back line, Smith’s movement remained bothersome to United defenders.
But the resistance was fragile. Kyle McFadzean timed his interception to perfection when Darren Gibson’s beautifully measured ball picked out Javier Hernandez, in United’s first move of real fluidity. The ensuing corner was expertly worked: first Gabriel Obertan’s pull-back found Gibson, who swung in another elegant cross that Wes Brown, rising high on a rare start as captain, dispatched comfortably beyond Crawley’s Michel Kuipers.
Briefly, the breakthrough dampened the atmosphere, while puncturing the Crawley players’ bubble of confidence. Fabio, beginning to find his range on the left, outpaced McFadzean in a flash before miscuing his strike. Even Obertan, in the midst of an anonymous season at United, unleashed a powerful shot that Kuipers did well to parry.
How the spectacle of Rooney entering the fold at half-time must have shaken Crawley. As if they were not exhausted enough by United’s monopoly on possession and territory, they had to contrive a way to contain the wiles of one of the world’s finest strikers.
Rooney, thrust to the head of an ambitious 4-2-4 formation alongside Bebe, Hernandez and Anderson, was a menace through the middle but Crawley could be content at restricting the deficit to the single goal. The one under-performer of the evening was Sergio Torres, the Spaniard who had reacted to this draw by leaping around his local electrical store but who could not emulate his fine form of the previous rounds here.
The persistence of the tourists from the Blue Square Premier could not be faulted, and duly their chances came. Surely the best fell in the 72nd minute to David Hunt, who collected a weighted pass from substitute Richard Brodie before scuffing the finish with a clear sight of goal.
For United fans who had gorged seven days earlier on the sumptuous sight of Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick, this was curiously flat fare. Matt Tubbs even had the temerity to attempt a repeat of the Rooney trickery when set up by a Brodie’s header, yet his scissored effort flew fractionally high.