Sheffield United came within three minutes of holding their namesakes from Manchester to what would have been a deserved draw at Old Trafford earlier this evening.
Nigel Adkins' players demonstrated remarkable commitment, determination and tactical discipline as they came within a whisker of securing a replay against Louis van Gaal's side. But, in the third minute of added time, Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of this FA Cup third round tie from the penalty spot.
The outpouring of relief among Manchester United's players spoke volumes about the courage Adkins' charges showed against their top-flight opponents.
The otherwise flawless Dean Hammond was responsible for the foul on Memphis Depay which prompted referee Jonathan Moss to point to the spot and allow Rooney to steer the ball beyond George Long.
Although they found themselves on the wrong end of the scoreline, this result represented a victory of sorts for the visitors. For van Gaal, meanwhile, it seemed like a defeat as the former Netherlands chief was harrangued by the home support as he made his way along the touchline following the final whistle.
United, by contrast, were serenaded by a near 9,000 strong travelling support. It was a cruel, cruel ending to the contest. Especially given the effort they had invested throughout.
Van Gaal paid his team's opponents and the competition the respect of naming a starting eleven containing the likes of Rooney, Juan Mata and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Dutchman's picks, however, also reflected the growing pressure he has found himself under in recent months. Quite simply, against League One opposition, he could not afford a slip-up here.
From United's perspective, ensuring proceedings remained tight for the opening quarter-of-an-hour was the first objective of the evening. It was a landmark they reached without too many problems - despite Marouane Fellani''s obvious prowess at set-piece situations - and it was not until the 70 minute mark that they found themselves coming under real pressure.
Predictably, and as Adkins had warned beforehand, the hosts dominated possession. But they caused United few headaches. Indeed, on several occasions, it was the visitors who appeared closest to forcing their way through with Conor Sammon and Billy Sharp both demonstrating a willingness to hunt down and harrass defenders. Sammon, retaining his place after Adkins named an unchanged starting eleven, tried his luck from long range in the 18th minute and although David De Gea was requited to parry the ball over the crossbar, an assistant referee's flag had been raised. The remainder of the first-half unfolded in similar fashion with Manchester United dominating in terms of territory but doing nothing with the ball. United, who worked like Trojans throughout, will have been delighted with their efforts when they returned to the sanctuary of the dressing room. Likewise, with how the opening exchanges of the second period panned-out. There was no onslaught from van Gaal's beleagured looking troops. Instead, it was Adkins' charges who posed the questions with Paul Coutts, producing an excellent shift in midfield, leaving Schweinsteiger trailing in his wake only to see his cross towards the onrushing Sharp cut out. It spoke volumes about United's contribution during the first hour of the game that van Gaal was the first manager to make a change with Memphis Depay and Jesse Lingaard both entering the fray. Sarcastic cheers reverberated around the stadium when Depay enjoyed a shot on goal. Even though it flew well wide. Chris Basham followed suit at the other end of the pitch but, as the 70 minute mark approached, Manchester United's tempo increased a notch. Matteo Darmian barged his way through a crowded penalty area but his low drive was comfortably saved by Long. John Brayford and Hammond produced excellent blocks during the closing stages before the latter committed the foul which saw Rooney break the impasse with only three minutes of added time remaining.
Manchester United: De Gea, Mata (Mephis 60), Martial, Rooney, Smalling, Blind, Herrera (Lingard 60), Fellani (Pereira 78), Schweinsteiger, Darmian, Borthwick-Jackson. Not used: Romero, Varela, McNair, Keane.
Sheffield United: Long, Brayford, Basham, Coutts, Sharp (Flynn 63), Collins, Woolford, Sammon (Done 90), McEveley (Reed 78), Edgar, Hammond. Not used: Howard, Baxter, Campbell-Ryce, Adams.
Referee: Jonathan Moss (Tyne and Wear).