FA Cup – Ragged United survive Crawley fright
Wes Brown, United’s captain for the night, scored the only goal just before the half-hour mark, but the Premier League leaders were subjected to a tough examination, particularly in the second half when Crawley dominated for long periods.
Richard Brodie might have supplied a dream finale in stoppage time, but his header came back off the United crossbar.
Nonetheless, Steve Evans’s players deserve enormous credit after defying the 93 league places between the sides with a superb display.
Although they did not see the giantkilling they travelled north for, the 9,000 travelling fans gave Crawley a deserved standing ovation at the final whistle.
In a team of heroes, the back four of David Hunt, Pablo Mills, Kyle McFadzean and Dean Howell were particularly impressive, repelling nearly all United threw at them, and threatening at the other end.
Despite pledging to field a strong side, Alex Ferguson rested nearly all of his regular first-teamers – although the United second-string still boasts no shortage of experienced internationals.
United struggled to assert themselves, hampered by the consistently ragged touch shown by Gabriel Obertan and Bebe on the left and right flanks.
Despite his searing pace, Obertan is a deeply flawed player, and the notion that he could be Ryan Giggs‘s long-term successor seems fanciful in the extreme.
And the less said about Bebe, the better. Suffice it to say he did nothing to justify Ferguson’s decision to spend £7m last summer on a player he had not seen, and who had been available for free six weeks earlier.
Right-back Hunt was excellent, shackling Obertan, winning headers in his own area and flinging long throws in the United box.
McFadzean was colossal in the centre, putting in a succession of robust challenge and proving entirely unfazed by his illustrious opponents.
Ben Smith nearly provided a moment of sheer magic on 11 minutes when he spotted Anders Lindegaard off his line and hit a 30-yard volley that dipped over the goalkeeper and drifted a yard or so wide.
After a shaky start, Darron Gibson asserted himself on the game, providing excellent through balls for Javier Hernandez and Fabio that neither man could convert.
And the Irishman created the opening goal after a corner was played short – he delivered an inswinging cross from the left and Brown glanced a header past Michel Kuipers inside the far post.
Undeterred, Crawley stuck at their task and were the better side for most of the second half.
Striker Matt Tubbs never tested Lindegaard but showed excellent touch, movement and composure.
A chance fell to Hunt on 72 minutes, but Brodie’s cross came on the defender’s weaker left foot and he shinned his volley wide.
Then Tubbs went even closer with a Wayne Rooney-esque bicycle kick that deflected just over off the head of Brown.
United offered nothing in reply, failing to spot the runs of Hernandez, while not even the half-time introduction of Rooney could add spark to a deeply inadequate display.
In stoppage time came Brodie’s header that came back off the frame of the United goal – United certainly knew they had been in a cup tie.
While Ferguson will take nothing positive from his team’s performance except the result, Crawley must return to the day job and concentrate on achieving promotion to the Football League.
Alex Chick / Eurosport