FA Cup: Preston North End 1-3 Manchester United
Preston: Scott Laird (47)
ManUtd: Ander Herrera (65), Marouane Fellaini (72), Wayne Rooney (pen.88)
Manchester United came from behind to avoid a fifth-round FA Cup upset at the hands of League One side Preston North End and set up a home quarter-final clash against holders Arsenal.
The Reds trailed to Scott Laird's deflected strike just after the start of the second half but bounced back with Ander Herrera levelling matters and Marouane Fellaini, pushed up front, smashing his team into the lead seven minutes later. Wayne Rooney wrapped things up by converting the late penalty he had earned, much to the delight of the travelling fans.
Louis van Gaal opted to push Rooney into attack alongside Radamel Falcao with Herrera and Fellaini introduced in midfield. There were three changes to the defence with only Marcos Rojo remaining from the starting XI against Burnley and even he switched to the centre of the back four.
A flat first half unfolded despite the lively atmosphere at Deepdale with the visitors failing to test goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann. The German stood and watched an Angel Di Maria free-kick dip wide of the target but was not called into action during a scrappy opening.
Another Di Maria set-piece eluded Falcao but Paul Gallagher's free-kick at the other end did find a man, only for Joe Garner to head over the bar under pressure from Rojo. Former Bolton battering ram Kevin Davies collected an inevitable booking for a crude foul on Herrera and things livened up a little as the first half drew to a close.
Rooney was unable to control a long ball by Di Maria with the flag staying down and the no.10 was then tackled by Bailey Wright when Falcao attempted to tee up a rare shot inside the box. Gallagher's tame daisy-cutter to David De Gea proved to be the last attempt of a disappointing 45 minutes.
The second half had barely started when Preston broke through. Laird was afforded far too much space on the left and his shot deflected off Antonio Valencia and deceived De Gea, bouncing under his body and into the net. The scorer was booked for his excessive celebration as the hosts milked the moment and grew in confidence after the strike.
Di Maria mustered a first United shot on target on 58 minutes but it was comfortably held by Stuckmann and Garner passed up a decent opportunity for North End when his header was kept out by De Gea. Van Gaal withdrew Falcao in preference for Ashley Young and the substitute soon had an impact as his cross led to Fellaini having an effort blocked by Paul Huntington.
The Reds' equaliser was tinged with controversy as the home side protested that Rooney was offside when Herrera's drive squirmed into the net off the keeper's right-hand post. However, the skipper moved out of the way of the shot and was not blocking Stuckmann's view so referee Phil Dowd allowed it to stand, following good play by Young in the build-up.
Gallagher floated a free-kick onto the top of the net as the League One side responded but Davies was incredibly lucky to earn a reprieve when guilty of a clear bookable offence when hacking down Chris Smalling. It did not prove too important as Valencia displayed fine wing-play to deliver a deep cross that Fellaini headed goalwards. Stuckmann saved awkwardly but the Belgian flashed in the rebound, finding the far corner of the net.
Preston tried to hit back with Kyel Reid firing wide and substitute Callum Robinson was gifted possession by Valencia but could only shoot powerfully at De Gea. However, United's passage into the last eight was secured when Rooney was sent flying when Stuckmann came recklessly out of his goal. The keeper was booked and United's captain blasted home the penalty to notch a killer third for the Reds.
Young needed to clear off the line to deny Laird a second goal of the night when he headed a corner past De Gea as van Gaal's men survived the earlier scare to set up an eagerly-anticipated date with Arsenal at Old Trafford.