Manchester United’s quest for an incredible five major trophies this season remains a possibility after they overcame the frail resistance of Championship side Derby County with a 4-1 victory in the FA Cup fifth round at Pride Park on Sunday.
Having already claimed the Club World Cup and a place in the final of the League Cup against Tottenham Hotspur next month, they now have a quarter-final tie to look forward to after making Derby pay for their temerity against them just over a month ago.
Derby won that League Cup semi-final first-leg 1-0, but United had no intention of making the same mistake again and goals from Nani, Darron Gibson, Cristiano Ronaldo and Danny Welbeck brushed aside the Rams.
Despite their League Cup first-leg defeat with a weakened side last month, Sir Alex Ferguson, with tomorrow’s Premier League fixture with Fulham in mind, again chose to rest no fewer than seven regulars, including Nemanja Vidic, with Dimitar Berbatov’s presence not even required on the bench.
Tweaking the tail of the champions is never advisable and the cavalry remained well insulated as United strolled into a two-goal lead before the interval and had a Ronaldo goal ruled out, which caused momentary confusion and turned Ferguson puce with rage as he ranted at his least favorite official Rob Styles in the technical area.
Giggs’ deflection of Ben Foster’s clearance caught Ronaldo straying into an offside position and the referee’s assistant waited until confirmation from Alan Wiley of the Welshman’s intervention, which came long after Ronaldo had ran 40m to defeat Stephen Bywater.
Ferguson’s ire did not last long. Within five minutes the two-goal cushion had been created with Gibson’s volley, after Ronaldo’s free-kick deflected off Paul Green and this time the same official missed Rafael Da Silva clearly offside, having to hurdle Gibson’s shot directly in front of Bywater.
That doubled the advantage gained by Nani’s wonderful curling shot from the edge of the area, after Gibson, Giggs and Darren Fletcher had shifted the ball the whole width of the pitch and Ronaldo was not to be denied.
He added United’s third, heading a Giggs corner powerfully beyond Bywater and celebrated by mimicking the referee’s assistant raising his flag.
It was also the ideal response to the Derby fans chanting “you should have died in the tunnel,” in reference to crashing his Ferrari in Manchester last month.
Miles Addison’s excellent header from Kris Commons’ cross was the fourth goal Derby have managed against United in a little over a month and things may have been something approaching tense for United if Foster had not produced a wonderful save at full stretch 13 minutes later to deny Gary Teale.
Ferguson could not have wished for a more routine work-out ahead of more pressing league matters tomorrow night and just to add the finishing touches, substitute Welbeck curled in a magnificent fourth 10 minutes from time.
Draw for the FA Cup quarter-finals: Blackburn or Coventry v Chelsea, Swansea or Fulham v Manchester United, Arsenal/Cardiff or Burnley v Sheffield United or Hull, Everton v West Ham or Middlesbrough.
Ties to be played on the weekend of March 7 and March 8.