Manchester United boss Van Gaal braced for Derby duel in FA Cup

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has his back to the wall once again ahead of his side’s FA Cup fourth-round tie at second-tier Derby County on Friday.

Saturday’s woeful 1-0 defeat at home to Southampton prompted press reports that Van Gaal had offered to resign and although those claims were rebutted by figures within the club, defeat at Derby will see the speculation ramp up all over again.

United needed a stoppage-time Wayne Rooney penalty to overcome third-tier Sheffield United in round three and the United captain is anticipating another testing evening at the iPro Stadium, where United won 4-1 in the fifth round in 2009.

“We know, as we’ve played there before, that it will be a difficult game with a good atmosphere on Friday night,” Rooney told MUTV.

“I’m sure they will be really up for it with their crowd and we will be up for it as we’ve experienced these games. The players who joined us last year and played against Cambridge and Yeovil will have seen that an FA Cup tie like this is more of a battle than a football game.

“We have to be ready for that and be ready for a tough game as the cup is full of surprises. Derby have nothing to lose. No-one is expecting them to win and they will try to cause an upset. We know that and have to be ready for that.

“It will be a difficult night for us. Sheffield United at home was a tough game, so we have to be ready to battle and win the battle. Hopefully then our qualities will show through.”

Derby, managed by former Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clements, go into the game on the back of a heavy 4-1 loss to Championship promotion rivals Burnley, which left them fifth in England’s second division.

But Clements is relishing the chance to lead his players out against United, who Derby last overcame in the FA Cup in 1897.

“What a challenge, to play one of arguably the biggest clubs in world football,” he told the Derby website.

“It’s clear they’re not having the best time themselves at the moment, but it’s an opportunity for two teams to come together and put in a performance.

“It’s going to be nice to put ourselves up against a very good side with world-class players, and a fantastic coach in Van Gaal.”

– Arsenal seek Burnley reaction –

Van Gaal’s defensive injury problems continue to mount, with right-back Matteo Darmian, who sustained a rib injury against Southampton, joining Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo and auxiliary full-back Ashley Young on the sidelines.

Central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger is also unavailable with a knee injury.

Derby could award a debut to Swedish international left-back Marcus Olsson, who signed from Blackburn Rovers this week.

Holders Arsenal continue their quest for a third successive FA Cup trophy — a feat last achieved by Blackburn between 1884 and 1886 — at home to Burnley on Saturday.

Arsenal squandered an opportunity to regain top spot in the Premier League last Sunday when they lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea, which left them without a win in three games, and right-back Hector Bellerin has urged his teammates to put the disappointment behind them.

“We need to focus on the next game and it does not matter about the trend,” the Spaniard told the club website.

“We are not thinking about that. We are just thinking about winning and getting ahead.”

Liverpool host West Ham United on Saturday, while Manchester City visit the Premier League’s bottom club, Aston Villa.

Liverpool and Manchester City both reached the League Cup final in midweek.

Guus Hiddink’s quest to repeat his 2009 FA Cup triumph with Chelsea continues on Sunday when his side visit second-tier Milton Keynes Dons, who famously humiliated Manchester United — and Van Gaal — 4-0 in last season’s League Cup.

Fixtures

Friday (1945 GMT):

Derby County v Manchester United

Saturday (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated):

Arsenal v Burnley, Aston Villa v Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers v Leeds United, Bury v Hull City, Colchester United v Tottenham Hotspur (1245 GMT), Crystal Palace v Stoke City, Liverpool v West Ham United (1730 GMT), Nottingham Forest v Watford, Oxford United v Blackburn Rovers, Portsmouth v Bournemouth, Reading v Walsall, Shrewsbury Town v Sheffield Wednesday, West Bromwich Albion v Peterborough United

Sunday:

Carlisle United v Everton (1330 GMT), Milton Keynes Dons v Chelsea (1600 GMT)

Photo Credits : AFP

Lurching Liverpool eye League Cup final spot

Zigzagging across the road like a clown car they may be, but Liverpool are also just 90 minutes from Wembley ahead of Tuesday’s League Cup semi-final second leg against Stoke City.

A team that recorded seven 1-1 draws in nine games in September and October is beginning to gain a reputation for slapdash spectaculars, following the recent 3-3 draw at home to Arsenal and Saturday’s remarkable 5-4 victory at Norwich City.

It has made Jurgen Klopp’s side a breathless watch, but with a 1-0 lead to protect at Anfield on Tuesday, Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva knows that it is imperative his team tighten up at the back.

“If we can score five goals and defend set-pieces especially a little bit better, we would be winning games more comfortably,” he told the Liverpool website after the victory at Carrow Road.

“But it will give us a lot of belief. On Tuesday we have a very big game, a semi-final and a chance to go to Wembley. We will do everything we can to get there.

“It’s one of the biggest games of the season until now and a good chance for us to go to Wembley. We don’t need any more motivation.

“We will recover and for sure everyone will be 100 percent, mentally and physically, for Tuesday.”

A draw will suffice for Liverpool to reach a first major final since 2012, when they won the League Cup and lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup final, after Jordon Ibe’s first-half goal settled the first leg on January 5.

With Everton leading Manchester City 2-1 in the other semi-final, there is the prospect of a first Merseyside derby in a major final since the deciding match of the 1988-89 FA Cup, which Liverpool won 3-2.

But Liverpool’s fans cannot know which version of their team will show up — the slick, counter-punching side that won 3-1 at Chelsea, 4-1 at City and 6-1 at Southampton, or the meekly surrendering one beaten in recent weeks by West Ham United, Watford and Newcastle United.

– Shawcross doubt –

Injuries to Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel mean that Klopp must continue to depend on the unconvincing centre-back partnership of Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure, which was badly exposed at Norwich.

But Adam Lallana could return to the starting XI after rising from the bench to lash home the 95th-minute winner at Carrow Road.

Stoke went into the first leg on the back of impressive victories over Manchester City, Manchester United and Everton, but their form has tapered off somewhat since the turn of the year and they were beaten 3-0 at Leicester City on Saturday.

Injuries have also started to bite, with captain Ryan Shawcross a doubt for the trip to Anfield after suffering a recurrence of a back problem at Leicester.

However, their attacking trident should be realigned after Xherdan Shaqiri made a successful return from a hamstring problem at the King Power Stadium while Bojan Krkic and Marko Arnautovic were being rested.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes, seeking to steer the club to their first League Cup final since they won the tournament in 1972, said the loss to Leicester was “one of those days to forget”.

“We needed to be better, but we’ll be looking to bounce back quickly,” he added.

“We have managed to do that more often than not. We have a huge game on Tuesday and I expect my team to respond very quickly.”

Everton and Manchester City meet at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday with the visitors in pole position after goals from Ramiro Funes Mori and Romelu Lukaku secured a 2-1 first-leg win at Goodison Park.

Sergio Aguero scored twice as City drew 2-2 at West Ham United on Saturday, while Everton lost 2-1 at home to Swansea City on Sunday.

Fixtures (aggregate score in brackets)

Tuesday (1945 GMT):

Liverpool v Stoke City (1-0)

Wednesday (1945 GMT):

Manchester City v Everton (1-2)

Photo Credits : AFP

Saints slip as Leicester climb off bottom

Southampton saw their quest for Champions League football next season suffer a setback as they lost 2-1 away to Stoke on Saturday, while Leicester moved off the bottom of the Premier League table.

Defeat meant the Saints missed out on the chance to leapfrog Liverpool into fifth place and move to within two points of Manchester City, currently occupying the fourth and final Champions League spot on offer to English clubs.

Faltering defending Premier League champions City are at home to West Ham on Sunday, when Liverpool play top-flight rivals Aston Villa in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium.

Morgan Schneiderlin scored from close range to put the Saints ahead in the 22nd minute at the Britannia Stadium after Jose Fonte headed on a corner from the right.

But the Potters were level early in the second half when Saints goalkeeper Kelvin Davis misjudged Steven N’Zonzi’s chip into the box. The ball hit the crossbar and Mame Diouf fired in the rebound.

And Stoke were ahead six minutes from time when Charlie Adam followed up to score after Jon Walters’s original shot was blocked.

– Foxes at the double –

Leicester, buoyed by their 3-2 win over West Bromwich Albion last weekend, saw off Swansea 2-0.

The Foxes needed just 15 minutes to take the lead at their King Power Stadium.

Argentinian forward Leonardo Ulloa, only drafted into the side after fellow striker David Nugent injured himself in the warm-up, latched on to a loose ball in the box after Wes Morgan had shielded it from Ashley Williams.

And King made the game safe for Leicester a minute from time when he scored after Esteban Cambiasso’s free-kick was parried by Lukasz Fabianksi.

Leicester’s third successive win took them off the bottom of the table for the first time since November and left them shy of safety on goal difference alone.

Ten-man Burnley found themselves at the foot of the standings after a 1-0 loss away to Everton.

Everton could have gone ahead in the ninth minute at Goodison Park when Aaron Lennon won a penalty after going down under a challenge from Dave Jones.

But regular penalty-taker Leighton Baines did not take the spot-kick and Ross Barkley’s effort was well-saved by diving Clarets goalkeeper Tom Heaton.

Fortunately for Everton, it was not a costly miss with Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas turning in a cross from Seamus Coleman in the 29th minute.

Burnley’s task became even harder when, on the stroke of half-time, Ashley Barnes was sent off for a second bookable offence after sliding in on Coleman.

Mirallas was fortunate to stay on the pitch after a reckless challenge on George Boyd early in the second period saw him receive a yellow card instead.

West Brom went eight points clear of the relegation zone with a 2-0 victory at home to Crystal Palace.

James Morrison scored in just the second minute at the Hawthorns when, completely unmarked, he headed in a corner from eight yards out.

The Baggies doubled their lead in the 53rd minute through Craig Gardner’s brilliant 25-yard strike.

Premier League leaders Chelsea will go 10 points clear at the top of the table if they beat injury-hit Manchester United in Saturday’s late kick-off at Stamford Bridge.

FA Cup holders Arsenal, who started the weekend in second place, face Championship club Reading in a Wembley semi-final on Saturday.

Meanwhile Tottenham Hotspur will continue their quest for a European place away to Newcastle on Sunday.

Photo Credits : AFP

Man United face defining period after FA Cup exit

Manchester United will begin a five-game period which could define their season when they seek to recover from the bitter disappointment of their FA Cup exit in a Premier League clash against Tottenham on Sunday.

After the meeting with Spurs at Old Trafford, Louis van Gaal’s side take on Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in their next four games as the battle intensifies to qualify for the Champions League via a top-four finish.

Aston Villa are the other team United must face in that period but van Gaal is in little doubt that, with only 10 games left in the season and with Arsenal having ended United’s interest in the FA Cup quarter-finals last Monday, this span of games will be crucial.

“You are right. It is very decisive, the coming matches,” van Gaal said.

“Of course, after a defeat at home, it is also important to see the reaction of the team.

“We play against a very good team in Tottenham. We are so close with a lot of clubs. We can be second or third. It is not a big difference I believe.

“Manchester United has to be one of the teams who has to play in the Champions League. We have seen that this year. It is not good, surely, if it is the second year (without Champions League football).

“But it is always possible because you never win every game and there are a lot of clubs who are going for it. But we have the confidence to reach the goal that we have set at the beginning of the season.”

Van Gaal must decide whether to continue with Wayne Rooney in attack.

After abandoning the use of the England centre-forward in a midfield position, van Gaal has seen his player score three times in as many games but has warned that Rooney is not guaranteed to remain up front.

“Now, in this moment, I think it is better to play Rooney (in attack),” he said.

“But it can be another line-up on Sunday. It depends on what I see, the game plan of my opponent and then also from the suspensions I have or the injured players.

“I have said that Rooney is a striker who can also play in midfield. He has shown that. He has also played – once – as a defensive midfielder.”

– Back on track –

Back to back victories have helped Tottenham move on quickly from their League Cup final defeat against Chelsea and Mauricio Pochettino’s side head to Old Trafford knowing a third successive win would move them level on points with United.

“We are having a great time,” said Pochettino. “We go to Manchester United believing in our style and we will try to win three points.

“We have full respect for United but we are very focused on our game, which is the most important thing.

“A lot of teams are fighting for the same target and we are very close, so we know it is very difficult.

“We have 10 games left, we will try to win at Manchester United and after that we will see what happens.”

Harry Kane will again lead the Spurs attack after scoring twice in last weekend’s 2-1 victory at QPR and this week collecting his second successive Premier League player of the month award.

Pochettino, though, this week singled out one of his lower profile players for praise, insisting left-back Danny Rose deserves international recognition for his efforts this season.

The defender is in contention for a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifier with Lithuania and the Spurs manager is in no doubt Rose should be handed a call-up.

“In my opinion, he has been the best English left-back this season,” said Pochettino.

“His performances have been great but after that it’s Roy Hodgson’s decision, not mine.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Larry Asego’s love letter to Manchester United

Manchester United lost 2-1 to Arsenal Monday night at the FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford. For classic 105 drive presenter, Larry Asego who is a United die hard a 12-year wait for the FA Cup victory is a sad affair.

United now have one sole focus which is the race for Champions League qualification in which they are currently trailing Arsenal by a point. Larry Asego was quick to post on his facebook that he still loves his team United. He says, “ At least there’s hope that some day we will win the league and not just have preset ambitions of fourth place. That said a gifted win to Arsenal, enjoy the semi-finals. I still hope you lose that one but for now you have bragging rights. You played well, not spectacular but well enough to win. We hope Wenger remains at Emirates forever too.”

Will Larry Asego need to write another love letter at the end of the Champions League? Check out his heartfelt post below

Screenshot from 2015-03-10 08:45:37

Old boy Welbeck fells Man United in FA Cup

Danny Welbeck claimed revenge for his departure from Manchester United by scoring the winner as holders Arsenal reached the FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-1 away victory on Monday.

The Manchester-born United academy graduate, who joined the club at the age of eight, left in a £16 million ($24.2 million, 22.3 million euros) deal last September after being deemed surplus to requirements by new manager Louis van Gaal.

And he returned to haunt his former club as Arsenal claimed a first victory at Old Trafford since 2006.

Welbeck pounced on a mistake by Antonio Valencia to score a 61st-minute winner after Wayne Rooney had cancelled out Nacho Monreal’s opener, and United’s evening ended in ignominy when Angel di Maria was sent off after receiving a second yellow card for manhandling referee Michael Oliver.

United’s wait for FA Cup success will now stretch into a 12th year and their sole objective is now the race for Champions League qualification, in which they currently trail Arsenal by a point.

With Jonny Evans beginning a six-game ban for spitting at Newcastle United’s Papiss Cisse, Luke Shaw came into the United defence, but although that was the only change to the hosts’ line-up, they displayed uncertainty from the off.

Van Gaal again played Marouane Fellaini in support of Rooney and the Belgian illustrated his unique strengths by chesting down a flighted pass from Di Maria and teeing up Ashley Young, who shot over.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started on the right for Arsenal, with Mesut Ozil in the centre, and in the 26th minute the England midfielder marked his return to the starting XI by creating the opening goal.

Having earlier been granted the space to put a cross-shot wide, Oxlade-Chamberlain wriggled between Daley Blind, Shaw and Valencia before stabbing a pass to Monreal, who beat David de Gea at his near post.

– Delight –

United’s fans were quick to voice their annoyance, but they were off their feet just three minutes later when Rooney met Di Maria’s right-wing cross with a fine diving header to claim his 14th goal against Arsenal.

Encouraged, United finished the first half strongly, with visiting goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saving from Rooney, Di Maria and Fellaini, although Santi Cazorla worked De Gea with a free-kick at the other end.

United made two changes at half-time, introducing Phil Jones and Michael Carrick for Shaw and Ander Herrera, while Oxlade-Chamberlain had to hobble off five minutes in after appearing to injure his hamstring, with Aaron Ramsey coming on.

There were half-chances for both teams, De Gea saving a deflected Alexis Sanchez shot and Di Maria shooting wide, before Valencia’s blunder allowed Welbeck to put Arsenal ahead.

United’s supporters have bemoaned their team’s predilection for back-passes in recent weeks and it was from such an action that the goal stemmed, with Welbeck seizing on Valencia’s under-cooked pass, touching the ball past the onrushing De Gea, and rolling home.

There was no muted celebration either, with the former Stretford End favourite clenching his fists in a clear show of delight.

Smalling should have equalised when he blazed Carrick’s flick over the bar from six yards, while Fellaini tested Szczesny with a header, but it took a stunning De Gea save to prevent Cazorla swelling Arsenal’s lead.

Di Maria saw red with 13 minutes to play when he was booked for diving and responded by tugging Oliver’s shirt, completing a miserable night for United.

Photo Credits : AFP

Arsenal handed potential United showdown in FA Cup

FA Cup holders Arsenal were handed a potential showdown with Manchester United in Monday’s draw for the quarter-finals.

The draw took place shortly before kick-off in United’s fifth round tie at Preston, with the Gunners selected to travel to either Old Trafford or Deepdale for their last eight clash.

Arsenal defeated Hull in last season’s FA Cup final to end their nine-year trophy drought — a barren run which had dated back to their victory over United in the 2005 FA Cup final.

Elsewhere in a draw conducted by England manager Roy Hodgson and Brian Finney, son of the legendary Preston winger Tom Finney, giant-killers Bradford were handed a home tie against second tier team Reading as they look to make the semi-finals to cap a remarkable Cup run that has included a stunning 4-2 win at Premier League leaders Chelsea in the fourth round and a 2-0 success against top-flight side Sunderland in the fifth round on Sunday.

That pairing ensures at least one Football League side will make it to the final four of the competition.

Liverpool’s hopes of giving Steven Gerrard an emotional Wembley send-off on his 35th birthday were boosted as they were drawn to face Championship side Blackburn at Anfield.

Reds captain Gerrard has agreed a deal to leave Liverpool for Los Angeles Galaxy at the end of the season, making the FA Cup final potentially his final match for the club he has served with great distinction since 1998.

The remaining quarter-final pitted Aston Villa, who appointed Tim Sherwood as their new manager this week against local rivals West Bromwich Albion at Villa Park.

Draw for the FA Cup quarter-finals made on Monday:

Liverpool v Blackburn

Bradford v Reading

Preston/Manchester United v Arsenal

Aston Villa v West Brom

Ties to be played on the weekend of March 7/8

Photo Credits : AFP

Van Gaal relishes Manchester United’s FA Cup odyssey

Louis van Gaal has loved every minute of Manchester United’s FA Cup run this season even though he feels the “world has been against them”.

Van Gaal’s side travel to third tier Preston North End in the fifth round on Monday to make it a hat-trick of away ties against teams outside of English football’s top two divisions.

United defeated third tier Yeovil Town in the third round before they required a replay at Old Trafford to beat fourth tier Cambridge United in the fourth round.

And even though he knows the wider football world will be once again willing the lower league side to cause a huge upset, United manager van Gaal is still relishing the chance to be part of a classic underdogs against giants Cup story at Deepdale.

“It is a fantastic competition,” Van Gaal said. “I have already described that we have to play for the third time a lower team, and you know the world is against you, the environment is against you because everyone is with the underdog.

“It is more difficult to accept but it’s like that. However, the chance that you can survive is higher because you are playing against lower qualities.

“But you have to beat the team with better motivation in other circumstances and in the atmosphere where everyone is against you.”

This will be their first meeting with Preston since an FA Cup fourth round tie against their fellow Lancashire club at Deepdale in February 1972.

On that occasion a United team featuring George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law won 2-0 thanks to a brace from the less heralded Alan Gowling.

– Rooney conundrum –

Van Gaal, meanwhile, continues to defend his use of England striker in Wayne Rooney in midfield, despite acknowledging the United captain is possibly the best forward he has at Old Trafford.

“He is maybe the best striker,” Van Gaal added. “But I have explained a lot of times that it is not because anyone is not a good player in my selection

“You have to compare and I have to like what is the biggest contribution where a player can play, and other players also.”

Preston manager Simon Grayson has urged his players to embrace the challenge of facing United’s stellar names.

North End, who are fourth in League One, have won their last three matches in all competitions and Grayson wants his team to do themselves justice against the 11-times FA Cup winners.

“Our players, no disrespect to them, but they might never get another opportunity to play against the likes of Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie,” Grayson said.

“It’s got to inspire them. You’ve got to go into a game like this and enjoy it.

“They’ve just got to grasp the opportunity and do what it takes to try to get a performance out of them. The one thing I’ll say to them before they go out is ‘have no regrets’.

“They need to wake up in the morning after knowing they’ve done themselves justice.”

Grayson is going in search of his second upset against United with a third tier club, having masterminded Leeds’ 1-0 victory at Old Trafford in January 2010.

“The magic of the FA Cup is there for everyone to see,” Grayson added.

“If we play to our maximum like that day, and they have an off day, then it can happen.

“We know the task we’ve got in hand but we’ve got nothing to lose and they’ve got everything to lose.

“There’s always one shock and always a hero – hopefully it’s going to be a Preston North End player.”

Photo Credits : AFP

Kane the star as Spurs overtake Arsenal

Local hero Harry Kane scored twice as Tottenham Hotspur leapfrogged Champions League qualification rivals Arsenal by coming from behind to win a pulsating north London derby 2-1 on Saturday.

Mesut Ozil volleyed Arsenal in front at White Hart Lane, but a ferocious Tottenham onslaught saw Kane net a 56th-minute equaliser before heading in a sensational winner four minutes from time.

The home-grown striker’s double, his 21st and 22nd goals of the campaign, took Spurs into the Champions League places and left Mauricio Pochettino’s side a point above Arsenal, who fell to sixth.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was presiding over his 700th Premier League game and he made one change to the team that had crushed Aston Villa 5-0 last weekend, with Danny Welbeck replacing Theo Walcott.

After Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina had denied Kane, Welbeck created the opener in the 11th minute, steaming past Danny Rose and picking out Olivier Giroud, whose miscued shot was volleyed home by Ozil.

It was to prove the cue for a wave of Spurs attacks, with Ospina saving from Rose and Ryan Mason while Rose, Erik Lamela and Kane shot off-target.

Arsenal’s resistance crumbled 11 minutes into the second half, when 21-year-old Kane tucked home at the back post after Mousa Dembele’s near-post header was parried by Ospina.

The action swung from end to end thereafter — Ospina thwarting Dembele and Nabil Bentaleb; Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris saving from Welbeck and Laurent Koscielny — before Kane settled it.

Bentaleb bent a cross into the box from the left and Kane rose above Koscielny to plant a textbook header inside Ospina’s right-hand post.

Southampton will look to reclaim third place later on Saturday when they visit second-bottom Queens Park Rangers, who are without a manager following the resignation of Harry Redknapp.

The top two are both in action, with leaders Chelsea visiting Aston Villa and champions Manchester City hosting Hull City, before Liverpool visit Everton for Steven Gerrard’s last Merseyside derby.

Photo Credits : AFP

Man United end Cambridge’s FA Cup adventure

Juan Mata, Marcos Rojo and James Wilson’s goals gave Manchester United a comfortable 3-0 home win over fourth-tier minnows Cambridge United in their FA Cup fourth-round replay on Tuesday.

United, fielding a side that cost £231 million ($350.4 million, 305.2 million euros) to assemble, survived an early scare against a Cambridge line-up that had not cost a single pound when Tom Elliott shot against the post in the first minute.

But first-half goals from Mata and Rojo put Louis van Gaal’s side in control before Wilson added a third to rubber-stamp a win that sets up a fifth-round trip to Preston North End, who beat Sheffield United 3-1.

“We have done what we had to,” United manager Van Gaal told the BBC.

“For the club, the fans and the coach and my staff, we want to win a title this year. The biggest chance is the FA Cup, but we still have to win four games to do that.”

Elliott found himself clean through on goal with just 45 seconds on the clock after an error by Daley Blind, who played the ball directly through to the former Leeds United trainee.

Elliott showed poise to steady himself and advance, but could only steer the ball against the right-hand post as diving United goalkeeper David de Gea looked on aghast.

It was hard not to imagine that would be Cambridge’s best chance and although the hosts had started slowly, they took a 25th-minute lead through Mata.

Angel di Maria’s left-wing cross was headed down at the back post by Marouane Fellaini and Mata was on hand to flick the ball into the roof of the net from close range.

Seven minutes later, Rojo made it 2-0 after Fellaini’s shot was blocked and the rebound spun kindly for Robin van Persie.

The Dutch international chipped in a cross for Rojo, who made no mistake with a strong header from six yards out to claim his first goal for the club since joining from Sporting Lisbon last year.

– Sunderland survive Fulham scare –

Either side of that second goal, Paddy McNair’s ferocious drive had been deflected wide and a 20-yard strike from Di Maria had sailed just over.

But their League Two opponents refused to be over-awed by the occasion and their 6,500 supporters, many of whom had been stranded in a motorway traffic jam, forcing the kick-off to be delayed by 20 minutes, remained in defiant voice.

The replay generated an estimated £1 million for Cambridge, which chairman Dave Doggett mischievously suggested would be invested in new lavatories at their Abbey Stadium home, scene of the 0-0 draw in the teams’ first encounter.

But they had Old Trafford experience in their ranks in the shape of former United winger Luke Chadwick and showed their desire to make a game of it when Ryan Donaldson shot wide before the interval.

The second half quickly settled into a pattern of relentless United attacks as the Premier League’s third-place side coasted towards the fifth round.

Van Persie spurned four decent chances, while Cambridge goalkeeper Chris Dunn saved from Wayne Rooney and Di Maria, before substitute Wilson found the bottom-right corner in the 73rd minute to seal victory.

“I was really pleased with them second half,” said Cambridge manager Richard Money.

“I said at half-time: ‘What’s the worst that can happen? You get battered? But so what? So go and show what you can do.'”

Sheffield United, who recently lost to Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup semi-finals, took a 38th-minute lead at home to Preston through Jamie Murphy’s low shot.

But Preston scored three times in 10 second-half minutes, with Paul Gallagher claiming a brace and Paul Huntington also finding the net, to earn themselves a glamour tie with Van Gaal’s side.

In the night’s other game, Sunderland came from behind to win 3-1 at second-tier Fulham, setting up a fifth-round trip to third-division Bradford City, conquerors of Chelsea in round four.

Photo Credits : AFP

FA Cup draw: Arsenal will play Middlesbrough in fifth round

Holders Arsenal have been drawn against Championship side Middlesbrough in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Aitor Karanka’s side knocked out Manchester City in the fourth round and will visit Emirates Stadium on the weekend of 14 and 15 February.

League One side Bradford City are rewarded for eliminating Chelsea with a home tie against Sunderland or Fulham. The winners of the replay between Cambridge United and Manchester United will visit Preston or Sheffield United.

Crystal Palace will host either Liverpool or Bolton Wanderers, while there are all-Premier League ties between Aston Villa and Leicester City, and West Brom and West Ham.

After beating Rochdale on Monday, Stoke will visit Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the next round. The final tie is an all-Championship affair between Derby County and Reading.

 

Gerrard denies valiant Wimbledon in FA Cup

Steven Gerrard illustrated his importance to Liverpool with two goals as his side avoided FA Cup third-round embarrassment by winning 2-1 at fourth-tier AFC Wimbledon on Monday.

Playing in his first game since announcing that he will leave Liverpool at the end of the season, Gerrard put the visitors ahead with a 12th-minute header at the 4,850-capacity Kingsmeadow stadium in south-west London.

Wimbledon’s man-mountain centre-forward Adebayo Akinfenwa, a Liverpool fan, stabbed home a 36th-minute equaliser, but Gerrard netted a fine free-kick in the second half to earn Brendan Rodgers’s side a home tie with Bolton Wanderers in round four.

Gerrard’s strike prevented Neil Ardley’s hosts from emulating the original Wimbledon’s famous 1-0 victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, when Lawrie Sanchez scored the only goal and Dave Beasant saved a penalty from John Aldridge.

But despite defeat, the night proved a triumph for the club, which was formed by supporters in 2002 after Wimbledon were moved 56 miles (90 kilometres) north to Milton Keynes and rebranded as Milton Keynes Dons after failing to find a new ground in the local area.

Having started life in the ninth tier of the English league system, AFC Wimbledon have been promoted five times in the last nine years and were appearing in the third round for the first time.

Although Liverpool manager Rodgers named a strong team, showing only four changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Leicester City on New Year’s Day, it was the hosts who threatened first, with Sean Rigg running onto Matt Tubbs’s flick-on and dragging a shot across goal.

But it was Liverpool who took the lead, with captain Gerrard spraying a pass wide to right wing-back Javi Manquillo before steaming into the box to meet the Spaniard’s cross with a stooping header.

– Sloppy defending –

Lazar Markovic then flashed a cross-shot wide of the Wimbledon goal, but having tested Liverpool’s strength, the home side began to make inroads, abetted by some dangerously sloppy defending.

Rigg saw a close-range snapshot brilliantly tipped over by Simon Mignolet and Tubb hooked a shot fractionally wide before Akinfenwa netted the equaliser.

After Mignolet failed to come for a corner, the ball bounced off Mamadou Sakho’s arm, hit the bar and bounced down for the barrel-chested centre-forward to prod home from a yard.

Wimbledon, 72 places below Liverpool in the league pyramid, threatened to create a sensation early in the second period, with Gerrard obliged to clear a header from Adam Barrett off his own line and Rigg blazing over after stealing past Emre Can.

But a foul on Philippe Coutinho by Barry Fuller on the edge of the Wimbledon box gave Gerrard a chance to restore the visitors’ lead and he took it, arcing a trademark free-kick into the top-left corner.

Dannie Bulman almost equalised within seconds of the restart, but he blazed narrowly over with his left foot.

Liverpool finished the game strongly, with Shea saving from Rickie Lambert, Coutinho, Gerrard and Markovic, but only a brave stop by Mignolet prevented substitute Adebayo Azeez from equalising in stoppage time.

Gerrard, meanwhile, was denied a hat-trick at the death when his goal-bound shot was blocked on the line by Callum Kennedy, as a captivating cup tie came to a close.

Man City eye another Wembley FA Cup triumph

Manchester City’s recent emergence as a genuine footballing power started with FA Cup success in 2011 and, if manager Manuel Pellegrini has his way, it will continue with another triumph at Wembley in May.

The current Premier League joint-leaders face an apparently easy third round home tie on Sunday against Championship club Sheffield Wednesday, whom they defeated 7-0 in the League Cup as recently as September.

The FA Cup has played a key role in City’s recent resurgence, with former manager Roberto Mancini ending the club’s 35-year wait for silverware when he masterminded final victory against Stoke four years ago.

There was a return to Wembley for the 2013 final, and a far different outcome, as City were stunned by Wigan in one of the biggest final upsets of all time, a result which led to the club sacking Mancini.

Little wonder, then, that Pellegrini, who won a Wembley final last season against Sunderland in the League Cup, is placing great store in the competition as City look to ensure they end the season with at least one piece of silverware.

“It’s the start of the FA Cup, which is a very important cup for our team,” he said. “Last year we were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Wigan but won the (League) Cup.

“This year, we were eliminated early from the (League Cup), so we need to try and continue as far as we can.”

Recent injuries – particularly in attack – mean Pellegrini will rotate his squad for the third round game and young forward Jose Angel Pozo, who scored his first and so far only senior goal in that League Cup victory against Wednesday, is in line for what would be only the second start of his career.

“It will be a club that I always remember because I made my debut against them and scored,” said 18-year-old Pozo.

– Run of success –

“So it would be fantastic to play them again and re-live a very happy moment for me. “I did allow myself a smile when we had drawn them again in the FA Cup but just because we won the (League Cup) game 7-0 doesn’t mean this won’t be a difficult match.

“We want to do well in this competition and it means a lot to this club because it was the trophy that started a run of success for us.

“Looking ahead, it goes without saying I would like to stay with the first team and have more opportunities to play this season – that’s my objective – but we will see what happens.”

Sheffield Wednesday boast an admirable FA Cup pedigree, with six appearances in the final to their name but they last lifted the trophy in 1935 – one of three triumphs in the competition.

The Owls’ most recent bow in a final came in 1993, when they were beaten 2-1 by Arsenal in a replay.

The South Yorkshire club reached the fifth round last season but know as well as anyone they face a daunting task to progress past the third round this time.

The 7-0 defeat at the Etihad earlier this term saw all the goals coming in the second half but, nevertheless, manager Stuart Gray believes his side return to the Etihad Stadium with hope.

“A tie at Manchester City is something to look forward to,” Gray said. “We go there full of confidence and we are looking forward to it and I am hoping to do better than we did last time. It is the Cup and there is always a shock.”