A replay will be required to decide Manchester United’s FA Cup fourth-round tie with League Two side Cambridge United following a frustrating goalless draw at the Abbey Stadium on Friday night.
Louis van Gaal’s men controlled the majority of the proceedings, particularly in the second half, but ultimately struggled to break down an impressively-organised home defence that performed with great courage and determination, for which their manager Richard Money deserves great credit.
Wayne Rooney was absent but van Gaal still named a strong team that began the match in the 4-4-2 diamond formation. James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj were brought into the starting XI to add pace and creativity, while Marouane Fellaini slotted into midfield, perhaps with a view to quelling the threat of Cambridge’s physically-imposing squad.
The hosts controlled the early exchanges with a raucous home support making themselves heard, although the first half-chance fell to Daley Blind in the 10th minute when he unleashed a low shot from a tight angle inside the box that was saved by Chris Dunn. Januzaj, starting his first match since 8 November, also looked eager to impress but scuffed another decent opportunity 10 minutes later when his half-volley bobbled towards goal.
Centre-backs Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo appeared to relish the occasion of facing League Two players who weren’t shy of making a strong tackle, and their defensive skills were severely tested on the half hour. Tom Champion’s towering header was accidentally blocked on the line by team-mate Josh Coulson, who then turned around to nod the ball just over the bar from close range, much to the relief of the visitors’ bench.
Angel Di Maria, playing in a slightly deeper position than at QPR, had a 20-yard shot spilled by the keeper shortly afterwards before hitting another deflected effort in the 41st minute that almost put Radamel Falcao through on goal. The Argentinian then curled a 25-yard free-kick just over the crossbar in what transpired to be the last chance of the first half.
The Reds made a bright restart and almost found a breakthrough when Januzaj’s low shot from the left corner of the area was saved. From that point on, van Gaal’s men dominated possession and knocked it around with relative ease, although Cambridge remained difficult to break down in testing conditions at the Abbey Stadium.
As the clock ticked on, the visitors began to show more ambition in the final third and Falcao almost reaped the rewards when latching on to Carrick’s neat pass to force another excellent save from the goalkeeper.
Wilson, who was cautioned for a trip on Tom Elliott, then exited the action for Robin van Persie as Fellaini was also replaced by third-round hero Ander Herrera. The Dutch striker was immediately in the thick of the action and perhaps should have scored, having latched on to Di Maria’s lofted pass to blast over the crossbar from around six yards.
Herrera’s introduction added much-needed urgency to the Reds’ midfield and the Spaniard was heavily involved in almost everything as he urged his team-mates forward with a place in the fifth-round up for grabs. Cambridge appeared to rally in the closing stages, however, as a money-spinning replay at Old Trafford loomed large.
The Reds desperately pressed forward and almost notched a dramatic winner in the 90th minute when Di Maria’s low drive was parried by Dunn, though the breakthrough never came and the home fans were jubilant following Chris Foy’s final whistle.