Manchester United eased into the FA Cup sixth round with a 3-0 win over League One Shrewsbury Town to take some of the pressure off under-fire manager Louis van Gaal.
On the back of last week’s humiliating Europa League setback at Midtjylland, Van Gaal took few chances at Greenhous Meadow – naming arguably the strongest XI available amid United’s injury crisis – and he was rewarded with a composed and clinical performance on Monday.
Shrewsbury were rarely allowed to venture from their own half before the break, let alone threaten a famous upset, such was United’s dominance of possession.
The hosts held firm until Chris Smalling’s deflected 37th-minute opener, although there was nothing fortunate about Juan Mata’s wonderful free-kick in first-half stoppage time.
Jesse Lingard scored the fifth goal of his breakthrough season after the hour mark to rubber-stamp a home quarter-final with West Ham – taking the edge off speculation surrounding Van Gaal’s future as United manager, which will undoubtedly crank up once again if Midtjylland are not seen off at the second time of asking later this week.
Smalling wasted an early headed chance when he connected with Daley Blind’s corner from the left wing, while Memphis Depay let fly with a pair of horribly wayward strikes from outside the area.
Having threatened to twice clear the stand behind the goal, the Netherlands international got his radar working in the 10th minute, shimmying into space and drawing a save from Jayson Leutwiler low down to the goalkeeper’s left.
A goal-bound Depay free-kick hit the unwitting Anthony Martial to go behind in the 26th minute, although United’s France forward was soon at the heart of the action – forcing Leutwiler to save with his right boot and watch Abu Ogogo head off the line as the ball looped towards his net.
Shrewsbury’s massed ranks of defenders were working overtime to keep United’s attacking stars in check but they were caught off guard by Smalling lurking inside their penalty area in 37th minute.
The England defender latched on to Morgan Schneiderlin’s knockdown and his scuffed shot spun home via a deflection off Nathaniel Knight-Percival.
United secured the increased advantage their dominance merited on the stroke of half-time, with Mata clipping home delightfully after Zak Whitbread brought down Martial on the edge of the box.
At half-time, youngster Joe Riley replaced Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at left-back for his United debut, while another Old Trafford youth product – Larnell Cole – came on for Knight-Percival as Shrewsbury sought greater attacking intent.
That proved to be a forlorn hope, though, as United pinned them back once more, with Depay having a low effort deflected past the post and Martial heading wide after Blind and Mata combined on a cleverly worked short-corner.
The third goal arrived following a rare foray forward from Shrewsbury, with goalkeeper Sergio Romero’s clearance allowing United to break down the left, Lingard converting Ander Herrera’s fine cross as Mata pulled the strings once more.
Lingard should have doubled his individual tally in the 72nd minute but stabbed wide due to a poor second touch.
Substitute Will Keane collected Depay’s backheel and hit the post, hurting his groin in the process and leaving United to finish with 10 men – a mishap that could not deny Van Gaal a much-needed win.