LONDON • At least Louis van Gaal treats the FA Cup seriously. His dour Manchester United team approached their third-round tie against Sheffield United with the same rigidity, caution and clipboard football, as they have any English Premier League game during his reign.
At least there will not be a replay.
The goal, when it came in stoppage time, was in many ways as ugly as the performance.
Dean Hammond, sliding on the sodden grass, caught Memphis Depay's shin, just inside the box.
Wayne Rooney buried the penalty to seal United's 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.
Successive wins for the first time since November should have eased the pressure on van Gaal.
But boos greeted the end of United's 10th consecutive home first half without scoring. Being held goal-less by Chelsea or West Ham is one thing but this was third-tier opposition ranked 48 places below on the league ladder.
It took the hosts - an almost full-strength side selected by van Gaal - 70 minutes to record their first of two shots on target against the League One side.
Once again, United played far too much sideways football, favouring possession when penetration was called for. Rooney, United's attacking talisman for so many years, had only 34 touches while United made 672 passes.
Former United star Paul Scholes led the chorus of criticism over the Red Devils' latest underwhelming display. "It's not good enough in my eyes," the former midfielder, now working as a pundit for BT Sport, said.
"They didn't create a chance and winning a game against a League One side with a 94th-minute penalty was not a great performance, but we haven't seen anything different for the last six months.
"The players looked bored, there's no spirit, nobody having a go at each other, no entertainment. I think even van Gaal on the bench looks bored, but he'll come out and say he was happy."
The Dutchman did not quite do that, though he did try to claim some of the criticism was unfair.
"Sheffield United did not create any chances either, but no one talks about that," said the United manager. "They played with 10 men behind the ball and that is the most difficult situation to overcome in football, it is easier to defend than it is to attack.
"In a Cup game, the most important thing is always to win, and at least we did that. We are in the next round and that is all that really matters, but I could not be so happy with the performance. We moved the ball too slowly and we needed to play with wingers to make the pitch as big as possible."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS