Wayne Rooney scored a sublime goal to put the Red Devils ahead, before George Thorne levelled the game up for the hosts against the run of play. After the break, the match opened up and Daley Blind, marauding forward from centre-back, put United back in front in the 65th minute. A piece of brilliance from Anthony Martial set up Juan Mata to make the game safe late on.
The win means United are the first team into the hat for the fifth round of this illustrious competition, with the remaining 15 fixtures to be played over the course of the weekend
Van Gaal has had to face plenty of questions about his future at the club this week, and it was evident from a strong starting lineup that the Dutchman was taking no chances against the Rams.
United began the game well too, settling down nicely into some early rhythm, starving the hosts of any possession and silencing what was a raucous crowd in the nascent stages of the match. Rooney’s brilliant goal put the glass on this fine beginning to the tie.
There was, admittedly, a hint of offside when the captain picked up the ball on the corner of the Derby penalty area. But there was plenty to admire about the England man’s work from that point, as he turned and fizzed a brilliant curling shot into the net from 20 yards.
As we can see here courtesy of BT Sport Football, it was a moment of genius from the forward, who has recaptured some form as of late:
From there, United maintained control of the contest, but it was a stagnant stranglehold. There were flashes from Rooney, Martial and Mata, yet they were unable to cut through their retreated opponents. It was a dangerous plot, because, as was famously said by legendary former Derby boss Brian Clough, “it only takes a second to score a goal.”
The Derby players added credence to that quote to shock the Premier League side with an equaliser. Chris Martin flicked a brilliant ball into the chasm left by a parted United back four and Thorne, bundling his way through from midfield, latched onto it, prodding the ball smartly past David De Gea.
Here's a look at the goal that sent the Derby supporters wild:
The equaliser was well-deserved by the midfielder, who, as we can see courtesy of WhoScored.com, was doing his utmost to take the game to the Premier League side:
Scott Carson: Only George Thorne (25) had more touches for Derby in the first half against Man Utd than Carson (23) #DCFCvMUFC— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) January 29, 2016
Both sides had chances to go in front before the break, but Rooney and Martin were foiled by brilliant defending from Stephen Warnock and Chris Smalling, respectively, keeping the clash level at the interval.
Despite some momentary spark from the Red Devils early on, Bleacher Report’s Nick Akerman wasn’t enjoying the performance put in by the 11-time FA Cup winners:
It’s got to the point where I genuinely feel nothing toward #MUFC’s results. That surely has to be the ultimate review of Van Gaal’s reign.— Nick Akerman (@Nakerman) January 29, 2016
The second half began in much the same style, with United unable to scythe through Derby and the hosts, when they moved the ball quickly through the phases, looking as though they had the potential to cause problems.
With both sides able to do without a replay, the game did become a little more stretched as the clock ticked past an hour. The biggest indictment of the attacking intentions of both sides came in the 65th minute as Blind, deployed at centre-back, moved the ball wide and charged into the box.
A superb cross from Jesse Lingard fell perfectly in the stride of the onrushing Dutchman, who finished emphatically into the corner in front of the travelling United fans. James Robson of the Manchester Evening News was delighted to see some overdue fluidity in the Red Devils' attacking play:
Real sense of adventure from Blind to carry on his run into the box.— James Robson (@JamesRobsonMEN) January 29, 2016
From there, United sought to take the sting out of the game. With 17 minutes remaining, Van Gaal introduced Michael Carrick into the game, making his first appearance of the year, with the veteran looking to put his foot on the ball and dictate the tempo.
Derby made some attacking changes themselves in the final stages, as Paul Clement sought to trigger another response from his players. But it merely created more space for the quality of the Premier League outfit to come to the fore.
Martial was the main beneficiary off this freedom as he helped wrap the game up. The young Frenchman, who was the standout player on the night, scurried past his marker on the byline with some wonderful quick feet and put one on a plate for Mata, who made no mistake from eight yards out.
Here's a look at the goal that made the game safe for United, per Footy Accumulators:
Martial ending a guy's life on the pitch... https://t.co/kbtYcJAp2A— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) January 29, 2016
Will United win the FA Cup?
A game Derby side forced United to work hard, and the Red Devils will be thankful to have got through into the next round. The Rams put them under a lot of pressure at times, and the Red Devils could have crumbled after they conceded the equaliser. But they recomposed after the break and were able to muscle their way into Round 5.
It’s not a result that will prompt a change in stance from United supporters when it comes to Van Gaal, with many having completely lost faith. However, if a Wembley final is on the agenda, it might just be enough to placate a situation that has been threatening to become toxic at Old Trafford.
United boss Van Gaal was pleased with the performance of his side and paid tribute to the instincts of Blind for his winner, per BBC Sport:
It was maybe better than we had trained. We played at the right time against the resistance of Derby. We gave their goal away but at half-time I said that it was a good performance, keep it up and we will win. And we did.
Daley Blind's goal? You have to sniff it and he sniffed it. It was a great goal. The Premier League is very important but the FA Cup is the greatest cup in England with a long and important history. We haven't won it for a long time so we dream of it.
Mata was also deighted to get through and had some encouraging words for the beaten Championship side, per BBC Sport:
It was really important for us to win. It is not easy to come here, even though they are not in the Premier League, they are a good team and are physically strong, like to press, and I think we did a good job. We came here to play football and play quicker and create more chances to score.