Manchester United provided some blessed relief to under-fire manager Louis van Gaal by powering into the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 3-0 romp at League One (third-tier) Shrewsbury Town on Monday.
Van Gaal, the subject of fierce criticism following Thursday’s shock 2-1 Europa League first-leg defeat at little-known Danes Midtjylland, was given few worries four days later as United strolled to their first victory in four matches.
The visitors went 2-0 up through Chris Smalling and Juan Mata after a one-sided first half and a 61st-minute goal by Jesse Lingard made the fifth round tie safe.
United, who need to lift the trophy one more time to equal Arsenal’s record haul of 12 FA Cup triumphs, next host in-form West Ham United in the second week of March.
Van Gaal’s side dominated from start to finish. They enjoyed 75 percent of possession against an outclassed Shrewsbury team that had only three goal attempts all game.
United went in front after 37 minutes when Morgan Schneiderlin won an aerial challenge outside the box and centre half Smalling, surprising the home defence by suddenly popping up in attack, drove the ball beyond keeper Jayson Leutwiler.
Mata left Leutwiler motionless on his line in first-half stoppage time when he dinked a direct free kick into the bottom corner of the net from 20 metres, prompting a wide grin from Van Gaal in the dugout.
There was an element of controversy about Mata’s strike as three United players were positioned 10 metres beyond Shrewsbury’s defensive wall, obscuring Leutwiler’s view.
“We have learned from the Midtjylland game,” Van Gaal told BT Sport, referring to a similar incident that cost his team a goal in the Europa League.
“We think that is always offside so we have asked the referees and they are saying, ‘No, you can do it’.
United, without long-term injury victim Wayne Rooney and goalkeeper David De Gea, made it 3-0 in the second half when Lingard slid in to score after Ander Herrera clipped a clever cross to the far post.