Ice-cool Manchester United avoid a slip-up at Shrewsbury, rest easy a while longer Louis
Shrewsbury 0 - Man United 3
The end will surely come sooner or later for Louis van Gaal but at least the Dutchman avoided a humiliation in the FA Cup last night as Manchester United cruised into the quarter-finals with an easy victory at Shrewsbury Town.
After all the talk of an out-of-sorts United slipping on a banana skin, Van Gaal's team made light work of dismissing their League One hosts.
They dominated from start to finish, struck first-half goals through Chris Smalling and Juan Mata and added a third in the 61st minute from Jesse Lingard. Indeed, Shrewsbury did not force a single save out of Sergio Romero in the United goal.
For United the reward is a sixth-round home meeting with West Ham United, for Van Gaal (pictured) a bit of breathing space. Ed Woodward need not make that predicted phone call to Jose Mourinho just yet.
How long it lasts, though, with Midtjylland visiting Old Trafford in the Europa League on Thursday, then Arsenal on Sunday, remains to be seen.
United have not won the FA Cup since 2004 and they had arrived in Shropshire on the back of a dismal run of five wins in 18 matches.
Last week brought defeats at Sunderland in the Premier League and then Midtjylland in the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 tie but at least this one began brightly.
On paper, this was your classic cup confrontation: League One's 21st-placed team versus the world's self-styled biggest club; a team whose FA Cup best is two quarter-final appearances against the 11-time winners; David versus Goliath; Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed.
The reality, though - to the dismay of most of the 9,370 in a packed Greenhous Meadow Stadium - was that this was as far removed from those blood-and-thunder cup ties of old.
United, though, could still be trusted to conjure up one or two red-faced moments early on. Memphis Depay hit the advertising sign at the top of the Salop Leisure Stand with one shot. Guillermo Varela then fell on his backside while trying to control a wayward Lingard pass.
Shrewsbury have not won at home in League One since October yet though they worked hard to frustrate United, packing their half with 10 blue-and-amber striped shirts, there was never a whiff of an upset.
Inside 90 seconds Smalling could have scored but put over a free header from a corner.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, United's assured-looking young left-back, then rolled a ball across Depay and he brought a diving save from Jayson Leutwiler. It was not Leutwiler's only save as with the half-hour approaching, he half-stopped an Anthony Martial shot, after Depay had played in the Frenchman.
With the ball looping behind the keeper, Abu Ogogo completed the rescue act by heading the ball away.
Eight minutes before the break, United's pressure did yield a reward, though, as Smalling struck.
The United captain was still in the home box after a half-cleared corner and when United recycled the danger, with the recalled Morgan Schneiderlin nodding the ball back towards goal, Smalling picked it up and fired in a shot that bounced up off the turf and beyond Leutwiler. By half-time it was 2-0 as, following Zak Whitbread's trip on Martial, Mata curled a 20-yard free-kick over the wall and past the flatfooted home goalkeeper.
One frustrated fan in the Roland Wycherley Stand cried out "Let's have a shot" on the resumption and boss Mickey Mellon began the second period with one of his three centre-backs, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, removed and replaced by Larnell Cole, a young midfielder who once won the FA Youth Cup with United.
It did nothing to alter the game. Martial headed wide when he might have scored and then Lingard did get the third goal. It came after a rare occasion that Shrewsbury got into the United box.
Romero collected the cross from Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and United countered at speed, with Ander Herrera lifting the ball to the far post where Lingard applied a low, first-time finish.
By now United had a debutant on the pitch in Joe Riley, a 19-year-old midfielder from Blackpool who stepped into the left-back slot vacated by Borthwick-Jackson. There was also an outing for Will Keane, who later went off injured, before Shrewsbury, belatedly, came to life as an attacking force.
Whitbread, once an Old Trafford mascot, failed to get his header on target under pressure from Romero.
Then Shrews substitute Cole showed some lovely skill to trick his way into the box down the left and created a chance for Ogogo whose effort was blocked by Riley
Ogogo had an even better opportunity moments later when unmarked but planted his header wide.
The outcome had already been decided at that stage anyway.