There may be 93 league places between the two teams, but there was no gulf in the scoreline as a much-changed United had to graft to book a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals courtesy of a rare Wes Brown goal in the first-half.
It is unfair to patronise Crawley Town and describe them as plucky, but they deserve credit for coming to Old Trafford with a positive attitude, trying to play football and, most of all, making it a testing day for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, with a few late scares thrown in for good measure. Their 9,000 travelling fans may not make the long journey home on the wave of euphoria that victory would have provided, but they return with plenty of pride at their team’s performance.
For United, this tie was sandwiched between a vital Manchester derby league match and the resumption of the Champions League knockout stages with a first-leg tie away to Marseille on Wednesday. It was about doing a job to get through to the next round whilst offering playing time to those in greatest need of it. In that sense, it was a case of job done. There was a scoring, solid display from captain Brown, while Darron Gibson and John O’Shea can take positives from their performances.
United made nine changes to the team that beat City in such dramatic circumstances at Old Trafford seven days previously. Match-winner Wayne Rooney was named on the bench as an insurance policy, but when selecting his substitutes Sir Alex will have hoped to be in a position to use three teenagers: 19-year-old striker Joshua King, and midfielders Ryan Tunnicliffe (18) and Paul Pogba (17). He was not afforded that luxury, but the experience will serve them well.
As expected, it was a high-tempo, positive start from the Sussex club, backed by their exciteable fans. They were clearly confident and, on this stage, having beaten three league sides – Swindon, Derby and Torquay