In the end United just about kept their balance long enough to avoid a possible fall from the banana split that was Yeovil Town in the FA Cup yesterday.
Louis van Gaal sent out the strongest FA Cup United team in years for this third round tie but you wouldn't know it from the first half display. The bottom side of League Two seemed to copy well from the script of United's away games this year by easily nullifying the 3-4-1-2 formation that is a mainstay under the manager this season. Our width was tamed and that left us with the usual exchanges at the back between the 3 man defence and the goalkeeper.....except that we weren't even comfortable with that as well cue hurried clearances out of play and concesssion of avoidable corner kicks.
Ironically our saving grace came from a couple of injuries to wing backs Rafael and Shaw. It forced the manager to go with a back 4 in the second half and goodness knows we looked more defensively secure despite having centre backs fill the full back positions. Juan Mata came on to improve chance creation up front. His introduction appeared to make Ander Herrera more at home and boy how homely did he take that half volley on the turn. Yeah, it was only against Yeovil and all, but if there's one thing we've learned about him that we didn't when he arrived is that he does have a lovely eye for goal.
It is increasingly apparent that inter-play upfront and making inroads in opposition defences through the middle is not yet a developed facet of our game. Wayne Rooney more often than not looks to play in the wing backs....and rightly so. It meant in the absence of Mata, United looked a bit lost of ideas even against minor opposition. Whether that is a product of the wing back system or a lack of trust among players to find a way through the middle, is up for debate. It's why Herrera's option to have a go from outside the box with that accuracy was more important than many will have realised. Against lower league opposition, you're always in danger up against adrenaline until that first goal goes in.
Di Maria came on to head off the line and win the game with a stoppage time goal so maybe we can put the performance behind us and dwell on the fact that we're in the hat for the 4th round draw tonight.
The third round of the Cup marks an end to the festive season. LVG thinks we've survived the period by clawing a point on Chelsea and progressing in the Cup. It's 7 days until the next assignment in the league is due and judging by the shape of the league table, Sunday might, in a wider context, turn out to be our most important game of the season so far. It is increasingly becoming the case that anyone that will make the top 4 by May needs to finish above Southampton. The last thing we need now is to let the Saints get above us again this season. But we have all of 6 days before we worry about that.