Non league Crawley Town were the visitors at Old Trafford in the FA Cup 5th round, as United looked to end what was becoming one of the greatest cup stories of all time. After last years slip up against lower league Leeds, Ferguson admitted pre match his reluctance to underestimate Crawley, and fielded a stronger than expected side containing Carrick and Anderson in midfield in order to avoid an embarrassing upset. United welcomed back the somewhat mysterious talent of Bebe back to the starting line up, the first time the Portugese winger has played since December’s humbling at Upton Park.
The 12,000 travelling Crawley fans expecting to be overwhelmed by a rampant United were pleasantly surprised by the reds first half performance. Instead of dominating what was on paper a very simple game, United were constantly frustrating and wasteful in the final third, with Bebe and Obertan in particular looking totally out of sorts. In a game where United’s fringe players were presented an opportunity to impress, once again they let themselves down with abject performances making non league Crawley look far better opposition than they actually were. It took until the 28th minute for United to finally break the deadlock, as Darron Gibson’s cross was cleverly flicked home by Wes Brown, his first goal for the club in over a year, much to the relief of the United fans in attendance.
However, expectations that the floodgates would open in the second half were quelled by a resilient Crawley side who were determined to not have their big day out ruined. Although United were relatively comfortable in possession, and Anders Lindegaard had a relatively quiet afternoon, United were constantly wasteful with the ball whilst very rarely posing a threat to the Crawley goal despite the introduction of Wayne Rooney.
In what is likely to be the biggest game in their history, Crawley were likely to have only one or two chances to spring one of the greatest cup upsets of all time. And on 75 minutes, the first of two great chances of glory was spurned by Matt Tubbs, who saw his bicycle kick fractionally go over the bar after John Oshea was twisted and turned on the edge of the area. Crawley however saved their best opportunity until stoppage time, as Richard Brodie found himself with time to aim his header from a long throw into the penalty area, only to see his looping header strike the cross bar ending Crawley’s hope of a dream replay.
Although the result shows a United victory, the performance was far from deserving from the reds, with several players really letting themselves down on a rare opportunity to shine. In particular, Bebe and Gabriel Obertan displayed their ineptitude against what is likely to be the weakest defence they will face in their United careers, and this in particular will be a real worry to Ferguson. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of yesterday’s match was due to our inability to kill the game off, players such as Pogba and Tunnicliffe, who have worked hard in the youth teams for many years were unable to get an opportunity to show the world what they can do. Meanwhile expensive imports such as Obertan and Bebe, frittered away possession and opportunities without showing the required level of care expected from Manchester United football players. United now look forward to a crucial trip to Marseille in the champions league, where many changes to the team are inevitable, and hopefully we can get back to playing the way Manchester United are supposed to.