LONDON – Manchester United relieved the pressure on boss Louis van Gaal after earning an FA Cup fourth-round win over Derby.
Van Gaal dismissed claims he offered to resign after losing to Southampton on Saturday, and his team were more positive against the Championship side.
Wayne Rooney curled in from 20 yards to put United ahead before George Thorne cut through their defence to equalise.
Daley Blind then finished low into the net from Jesse Lingard’s cross before Juan Mata sealed victory late on.
Derby, who have not won a league game in 2016 and are fifth in the Championship, caused problems towards the end of the first half when Thorne latched onto Chris Martin’s delightful through ball.
But that aside, it was a confidence-boosting win for Van Gaal’s team, who after weathering a winless December, have lost once in January.
It has been a troubling week for under-pressure boss Van Gaal, who has trained his fire on the media and sarcastically said that losing to Derby could cost him his job for a fourth time this season.
But in the first half hour and after the break, United showed the kind of swagger missing in recent months against a Rams team who were top of the Championship on Boxing Day.
Buoyed by over 5,000 visiting fans, much of United’s improvement was down to Anthony Martial, who captured some of his early season form with a superb performance.
Stationed on the left wing, the 20-year-old caused all sorts of headaches for Derby right-back Cyrus Christie and capped a superb display when he set up Mata after skipping through the Derby defence once again.
With better control the French forward could have scored either side of Rooney’s delightful finish. Although the United striker appeared offside when he collected the ball, it took him to within six of Bobby Charlton’s club record 249 goals.
Ancelotti at Real Madrid, Paris St-Germain and Chelsea before he took his first step into management at the start of the season.
The former school teacher has overseen Â£25m of spending on players since taking over, and up until Boxing Day it seemed to be paying dividends with Derby on course for the Premier League.
But like last season, where the Rams faltered in the promotion push under former manager Steve McClaren, Derby’s form has nosedived.
The hosts looked bereft of confidence as United began the game strongly, missing out on an opportunity to pressurise Van Gaal’s struggling side.
However, once they pressed United higher up the pitch they began to give their expectant supporters something to cheer about.
Thorne’s goal was well worked and had Nick Blackman kept two efforts on target either side of the break, they might have caused real worry for the visitors.
However, Blackman and fellow winger Thomas Ince were well shackled by United’s young full-backs Guillermo Varela and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, and once Blind put the 11-times FA Cup winners ahead, Derby’s challenge faded.
Derby host Preston next Tuesday as they hope to get their Championship title challenge back on track, while Manchester United welcome Stoke to Old Trafford on the same evening. – BBC