Second-half goals by Daley Blind and Juan Mata brought relief for manager Louis van Gaal as Manchester United overcame second-tier Derby County 3-1 in the FA Cup.
Van Gaal had admitted prior to the fourth-round tie that defeat at the iPro Stadium could cost him his job, having seen his side booed off following last weekend’s abject 1-0 loss to Southampton at Old Trafford.
But after Wayne Rooney’s superb opener had been cancelled out by George Thorne, Blind and Mata struck in clinical fashion to take United into the last 16 and ease some of the pressure on the embattled Van Gaal.
“We gave their goal away, but at half-time I said that it was a good performance, keep it up and we will win. And we did,” said Van Gaal.
“The Premier League is very important, but the FA Cup is the greatest cup in England with a long and important history. We haven’t won it for a long time so we dream of it.”
United’s dream of a first FA Cup win since 2004 remains alive and they will return to Premier League matters, at home to Stoke City on Tuesday, with confidence at least partly restored.
Derby, meanwhile, must wait for their next opportunity to end a wait for an FA Cup victory over United that stretches back to February 1897.
“I don’t think we were unlucky. Manchester United deserved to win the game,” conceded Derby manager Paul Clement.
“For a team that’s supposed to be in disarray and lacking confidence, they played well.”
A defensive injury glut meant that there was an unfamiliar look to the visitors’ starting XI, with Guillermo Varela and 18-year-old Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at full-back, but the sharpness of United’s passing in the early stages belied their recent struggles.
Striker-like timing -
It took them less than three minutes to cut Derby open, the impressive Anthony Martial side-footing over from Rooney’s lay-off, and in the 16th minute a similar combination yielded the opening goal.