FA Cup: Team spirit key for Van Gaal after United survive Preston cup scare

Ross McLean
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Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini scored United’s second goal in their 3-1 victory

RELIEVED Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal highlighted his side’s resilience after they recovered their poise to banish fears of an FA Cup upset against League One promotion-chasers Preston North End at Deepdale last night.

Second-half strikes from Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and a Wayne Rooney penalty sealed United’s progress after Scott Laird’s opener threatened an upset, setting-up an intriguing quarter-final clash with old foes Arsenal at Old Trafford next month.

11-time winners United have not lifted the FA Cup since a 3-0 victory over Millwall in 2004, but after extending their run of form to just one defeat in 19 matches, Van Gaal lauded the battling qualities showcased against plucky and dangerous opponents.

“We showed unbelievable team spirit,” said Van Gaal.

“We then changed the shape also and that was the solution. We scored fantastic goals but were a little bit lucky also I think, but good. I liked Fellaini’s goal because we’ve trained a lot on that so I was very happy for [Antonio] Valencia.

“I was reasonably satisfied. We didn’t give anything away. It’s always difficult in such games especially with the long balls and the fights between the central defenders and [Kevin] Davies. It was difficult but we didn’t give anything away.”

Preston stormed into the lead moments after the re-start when Laird sprinted onto Joe Garner’s pass and fired through the usually reliable Untied keeper David de Gea, although his shot took a defelction off the boot of Valencia.

The visitors failed to register an effort on target in the opening period but their sluggish attack was given fresh impetus by the arrival of Ashely Young on the hour-mark, who replaced ineffective Colombia hitman Radamel Falcao.

The home side’s bubble was punctured when United equalised on 65 minutes as Herrera, making his first start since December, squirmed a shot beyond German stopper Thorsten Stuckmann after a low cross from the right by Young.

United completed their turnaround with less than 20 minutes remaining. Fellaini’s initial header from a deep Valencia cross was saved by Stuckmann, only for the towering Belgian to lash the rebound into the top corner.

Rooney, playing in a more advanced role compared to his recent deployment as a deep-lying central midfielder, scored his first goal of 2015 to secure United’s passage to the last eight. The 29-year-old confidently converted a spot-kick after Stuckmann was adjudged to have felled the England skipper in the box.