Following two disastrous consecutive losses, United faced league leaders and rivals Manchester City in the FA Cup third round, looking to avoid a hat trick of defeats, a record United have preserved since 2001. Having succumbed to a humiliating 6-1 reverse scoreline at Old Trafford earlier in the season, the reds were keen to make amends and set the record straight, albeit whilst in their worst run of form of the campaign. United welcomed back Chris Smalling to the defence alongside Rio Ferdinand, with Phil Jones occupying a right back slot after enduring a difficult evening against Demba Ba in midweek. Wayne Rooney was looking to score his 12th derby goal for United, and assure the fans he was committed to club following reports that he is looking to move on in the near future, as he partnered Danny Welbeck in an attacking United line up. Pre match chatter however was diverted towards the shock inclusion of United legend Paul Scholes amongst the substitutes, with news that Scholesy is taking up a playing role with the club for the remainder of the season to avert the current injury crisis. It was to be the first twist in what was a bizarre afternoon of football.
A crackling atmosphere encouraged the home side to a strong start, controlling large amounts of possession and keeping United pinned back into their half for the opening 10 minutes. It was the red half of Manchester that struck the first blow however, when on 10 minutes, the much scrutinised Rooney bravely met Antonio Valencia’s cross to head United into the lead, triggering a match altering 5 minutes. Minutes after taking the lead, United were handed yet another boost, as City skipper Vincent Kompany was dismissed for a two footed lunge on Nani handing the reds a man advantage for the remaining 70 minutes of the tie. United asserted their dominance on the half hour mark, as they doubled their lead through Danny Welbeck, who pounced upon a loose ball in the City penalty area to volley home into the bottom corner. A dream half was complete for United when 5 minutes before the break, Ryan Giggs’s reverse pass to Danny Welbeck saw the England striker chopped down by a rash challenge from Alexsander Kolarov, handing the reds the chance to take a 3 goal lead from the spot. Stand in City keeper Pantilimon saved Rooney’s spot kick, but couldn’t prevent him from nodding home the rebound for his second of the game, sending the 6000 reds into a delirious celebratory Poznan!
Having secured a seemingly unassailable lead, thoughts turned to gaining revenge for the 6-1 given the half time situation United found themselves in. However, just 3 minutes into the second half, Kolarov’s free kick from 25 yards found its way into the bottom corner, swinging the momentum back into the home sides favour. Scholes’ introduction on the hour mark brought some calm to the United midfield, who were content to keep possession away from City. However, a culmination of errors, beginning with a lapse lay off from Scholes, resulted in Sergio Aguero pouncing upon a tame attempted save from Lindegaard to tap City right back into the game with 25 minutes still on the clock. A tense finale ensued for United, who were forced to stave off a late flurry from the home side, with Lindegaard called into action to beat away a Kolarov free kick with stoppage time looming. United held on however, and made their way into the fourth round, and the mouth watering prospect of a clash against Liverpool at Anfield.
Lindegaard – 5 Unconvincing display despite one great save from Aguero.
Jones – 5 Looked to be lacking his usual self confidence.
Smalling – 7 Timely return to bolster the defence.
Ferdinand – 6 Few dodgy moments, but overall solid.
Evra – 6 Bombed forward superbly, still left questions to be answered defensively.
Valencia – 7 Keeps showing why he is integral to United.
Carrick – 7 Ran the midfield.
Giggs – 6 A few touches of class, enjoyed extra space after red card.
Nani – 5 Quiet afternoon despite assist for second goal.
Rooney – 8 MOTM Superb display to silence critics.
Welbeck – 7 Intelligent movement and superbly taken goal.
Scholes – 6 Metronome in midfield, looks like he can still do a job for United.
Anderson – 5 Added stability to creaking midfield.