Football: Rooney's late winner is cold comfort for lacklustre United

United defender Matteo Darmian (centre right) and midfielder Daley Blind celebrate Rooney's penalty goal.
United defender Matteo Darmian (centre right) and midfielder Daley Blind celebrate Rooney's penalty goal.PHOTO: AFP

MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Wayne Rooney's stoppage-time penalty spared Manchester United's blushes as they narrowly avoided FA Cup third round embarrassment with a 1-0 win over Sheffield United on Saturday.

United, 11-times winners of the FA Cup, had only once before lost to lower league opposition in 37 ties in the competition.

That record was severely tested by the determined third tier visitors, who had already defeated five Premier League teams over the past couple of seasons in reaching the semi-finals of both the FA and League Cups.

But Rooney's dramatic late penalty, converted after substitute Memphis Depay had been fouled in the box by Dean Hammond, ensured Louis van Gaal's side would avoid a tricky replay at Bramall Lane.

However, United manager van Gaal and his players once again felt the wrath of their supporters at Old Trafford throughout another poor performance which threatened to end in a sixth 0-0 draw from the last 10 games at Old Trafford.

Van Gaal's side again looked desperately short of an attacking threat as the underdogs comfortably kept them at bay until their fatal late lapse and, in fact, the hosts didn't register a shot on target until the 69th minute, a strike that drew sarcastic cheers from sections of the stadium.

These two sides made a habit of meeting in the FA Cup in the 1990s, playing each other four times in six years from the start of the decade.

Manchester United won three of the four meetings and each time went on to go all the way to the final at Wembley.

Exactly 21 years ago, Alex Ferguson's side won a third-round tie in Sheffield famous for a stunning, chipped goal from Eric Cantona and United would have given anything to have the Frenchman's artistry available in a season in which van Gaal's cautious tactics have been so widely criticised.

That was the case again as an almost full-strength side selected by van Gaal, relieved by a first win in nine games against Swansea in the Premier League a week ago, dominated the first half without having anything to show for it.

Rooney lifted a long-range shot over the bar and then failed to pick out Juan Mata, the only player in the visitors' box, after he had been forced wide when rounding goalkeeper George Long after being released by Matteo Darmian's excellent pass.

Long also dashed off his line to beat Rooney to Ander Herrera's through-ball, but the visitors were happy to defend deep before looking to strike on the break as they reached half-time without conceding a shot on target.

Van Gaal responded at the start of the second half by moving Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini into a more advanced role as he swapped positions with Herrera.

And just 15 minutes later the Dutch coach replaced Herrera and Mata with Depay and Jesse Lingard as he looked to inject some pace into his side's attack.

Depay responded by cutting in to fire a shot just wide, which brought ironic applause from United's frustrated supporters, who then saw the visitors, who are eighth in League One and 47 places lower on the league ladder, have their first effort on target from midfielder Chris Basham.

That was easily saved by David de Gea but Nigel Adkins' team looked like they had done enough to earn a deserved replay until Depay delivered the goods.

The young Dutchman had twice gone close with efforts from outside the box as he brought an extra dimension to United's attack, his late burst into the box finally paving the way for Rooney to rescue the hosts three minutes into stoppage-time.