Manchester United cruised into the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 3-0 win at Shrewsbury on Monday that at least temporarily eased the mounting pressure on Louis van Gaal.
Chris Smalling, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard netted the goals as United wrapped up a businesslike victory against their third tier hosts to secure a last eight date with West Ham United at Old Trafford.
Following speculation that an embarrassing defeat would be fatal to Van Gaal’s hopes of avoiding the sack, the United manager was relieved to see his side easily navigate their way through a one-sided fifth round tie.
United, humbled by Sunderland and then FC Midtjylland in their last two matches, took 37 minutes to make the breakthrough, but once Smalling opened the scoring the result never looked in doubt.
“I was very pleased. We have played 70 minutes fantastic, in a professional way, creating chances and scoring goals,” Van Gaal told BT Sport.
“Everyone shall say Manchester United have to win against Shrewsbury Town, but for the players it is fantastic because we are in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.”
As expected, United dominated possession in the early stages and they should have led from a corner with just two minutes on the clock.
Daley Blind’s delivery from the left found the head of Smalling, but the stand-in United captain misdirected his header and it spun over the crossbar.
Memphis Depay then tried two efforts of his own from the left of goal around 25 yards out, but both flew into the Shrewsbury fans to earn the visiting winger ironic cheers from the home crowd.
Depay almost answered that ridicule with the opening goal on 11 minutes.
After collecting a pass from Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, Depay let fly with a low shot that Jayson Leutwiler did well to scramble away as he dived acrobatically to his left.
United made a hash of their next chance to test Leutwiler after Jermaine Grandison was penalised for a foul on Depay 20 yards from goal.
The winger took the resulting free-kick himself but he struck it against the head of team-mate Anthony Martial and it looped harmlessly away.
Leutwiler then saved instinctively with his legs to deny Martial after a clever pass from Mata, with Abu Ogogo on hand to clear the rebound off his line as United players closed in.
Martial created an opening with some neat footwork, with his shot blocked by a sliding Grandison.
United’s pressure finally paid off with half-time approaching courtesy of Smalling.
After Borthwick-Jackson had powered down the left, his cleared cross was headed back in by Morgan Schneiderlin and Smalling’s shot on the turn deflected in off Nathaniel Knight-Percival.
As Shrewsbury attempted to steady the ship, they conceded the second goal on the stroke of half-time.
Zak Whitbread had tripped Martial and Mata curled the resulting free-kick over the Shrewsbury wall and into the net with Leutwiler rooted to the spot.
Early in the second half, Lingard produced a good touch to control a cross as he looked to extend United’s lead but Brown made a another important clearance for Shrewsbury.
United were still making all the running and Depay made another bid to get on the scoresheet when he cut inside and let fly with a shot that deflected behind for a corner.
Van Gaal’s men grabbed their third goal on 61 minutes when they counter-attacked with pace from a rare Shrewsbury break.
Mata’s touch sent Ander Herrera away and his cross from the left was turned home by Lingard, who produced a smart, first-time finish.
Lingard missed a chance to add to his tally when he bundled a close-range shot wide as United continued to press.
And substitute Will Keane then saw a decent snap-shot come back off the post.
United ended the game with 10 men when Keane was forced off with an injury after all three substitutes had been used.