United played out a goalless draw at the home of League Two opposition, labouring for long periods of the game before failing to capitalise on their domination of possession later in the game.
This may not be the Cambridge United side that United last faced in 1991, that infamous team of the long grass, deflated practice balls and sugar in the opposition’s teapot; however, in starting the game with no players under 5′ 11 they possessed a similar aerial threat and used it to their advantage as they took the game to United in the first half, keeping Rojo and Jones busy in the centre of United’s defence and going close to scoring from a corner on the half hour mark when, after a goalmouth scramble, Coulson’s header narrowly cleared the United bar.
Although the Reds began to enjoy more possession as the opening period moved towards it close, shots on goal were limited to a tame effort from Januzaj’s right foot and a Di Maria free kick that easily cleared the crossbar. Cambridge were well organised in midfield and at the back and United’s play, not for the first time this season, lacked the pace and guile to stretch them. Sluggish build-ups allowed the home team to regain their shape comfortably and for large periods of the first half Wilson and Falcao were stranded up front, with Di Maria and Januzaj labouring in the Reds’ midfield and a dearth of forward passes.
United enjoyed far great possession in the second half but continued to lack a cutting edge, although a rare (on the night) defence-splitting ball from Carrick put Falcao through on goal only for the forward’s shot to be saved brilliantly by Dunn. Van Persie came on for Wilson and almost made an impact when he pulled his shot over the bar from a sharp angle after being put in by Di Maria.
United continued to enjoy the bulk of possession and a Januzaj cross flashed across the box without finding a connection and the young Belgian, who was becoming more involved as the game went on, also forced a near post save out of Dunn. The Cambridge keeper’s best moment was still to come, however, when he punched the ball away from the head of Van Persie before denying Di Maria’s shot after the rebound fell to him on the edge of the area.
Cambridge posed some dangers themselves from set pieces towards the end, but United had had enough possession in the second half to be hugely disappointed they’d not put the game to bed. As it is, they now face a replay at Old Trafford while the plaudits, deservedly, will go to the home side for a spirited effort and a first half performance in which for long spells they were the more dangerous team.