United 1 Rochdale 1 (United won 5-3 on penalties)
Sergio Romero took centre stage to help Manchester United avoid a Carabao Cup shock as the Reds keeper broke Rochdale’s hearts in a penalty shoot-out.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were taken to a nerve-jangling finale after the third-round tie ended 1-1.
Mason Greenwood scored his second goal in a week in normal time only for his second-half effort to be cancelled out by 16-year-old Luke Matheson. However, United’s Argentinian goalkeeper was the hero as he saved the League One side’s second penalty, taken by Jimmy Keohane, of the dramatic spot-kick contest.
United had a 100 per cent record from the spot as Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira, Fred and Greenwood all scored before Daniel James hit the clincher.
Axel Tuanzebe, who was brought up in Rochdale and was handed the captaincy for the night, had to be alert when Rochdale mounted the first attack of the night.
Fred was dispossessed by Oliver Rathbone and Callum Camps sensed a potential big moment as the Stretford End held its collective breath, but Tuanzebe was quick to dampen the danger with a rescuing tackle.
Paul Pogba, on his return to the XI from injury after missing three matches, had United’s first major chance. Dale got themselves into a mess attempting to play the ball out from defence and the Reds midfielder seized on a loose ball but sent his long-range shot over the bar.
Shooting from distance caught on in United’s ranks and a flurry of efforts had Rochdale rocking. Andreas and Fred both had attempts blocked then Andreas had another blockbuster beaten away by keeper Robert Sanchez.
United were creating few chances in the penalty area but it was the unlikely figure of defender Marcos Rojo who was given the first real close-range opportunities in the space of two minutes.
The left-back had a stooping header saved from eight yards after 26 minutes and then held his head in his hands as he steered another nodded effort wide from a corner.
It was Pogba’s turn to beat himself up in the 34th minute when he squandered arguably the best chance of a breakthrough. The Frenchman was picked out expertly by Greenwood’s cross but, as he stormed into the six-yard area, Pogba headed over.
Rochdale again laid a chance on for United when, once more, their elaborate efforts to pass their way out of the back came unstuck. The error allowed Greenwood a clear run on goal.
However, the teenager couldn’t win his one-on-one shooting duel with keeper Sanchez.
Jesse Lingard was next to clock up a near miss in the 43rd minute when his glancing header landed on the roof of the net. Rojo remained keen to be the one to break the deadlock and, just before the interval, he sent a low drive skidding just wide.
United’s Academy strength became even more evident when 19-year-old Brandon Williams made his first senior appearance, coming on for Phil Jones at half-time. It meant the Reds lined up in the second half with seven players brought up through the Old Trafford ranks.
The Reds almost got a fortuitous opener six minutes after the interval when an Andreas shot was deflected just wide off Keohane. Rochdale’s response was immediate and a frightener for Old Trafford.
Ex-Reds youngster Rathbone calmly and cleverly danced his way into United’s box and got close to goal before slipping a ball back to Camps. His mishit snapshot was cleared off the line superbly by Aaron Wan-Bissaka to get United off the hook.
The goalmouth action was heating up and the Reds hit back with a left-foot drive by Greenwood slipping just past the post. Lingard and Greenwood both went close, with the latter being set up by James soon after he replaced Tahith Chong.
The evening was beginning to get edgy before Greenwood stepped up again.
In the 68th minute, sub Williams showed his power and drive as he went at Rochdale and United then switched the ball out to the Reds striker, via Lingard. Against Astana, he fired in with his right foot but this time he got the ball onto his left and cracked the ball home to break Rochdale's stubborn defiance.
United only had eight minutes in the lead before the visitors stunned Old Trafford.
On a night for fresh-faced youngsters it was Dale's own teen, Matheson, who levelled the tie up in the 76th minute. He half-volleyed Rathbone's high cross into the net as he burst in from the right, with the bounce taking it over desperate attempts to clear by Pogba on the line.
United's desperately tried to avoid the penalty shoot-out but couldn't come up with a winner in added-on time, with Wan-Bissaka, Fred and Andreas passing up openings. It was left to James to ensure the Reds progressed to face Chelsea in the next round with the 5-3 win on penalties.
United: Romero; Wan-Bissaka, Jones (Williams 45), Tuanzebe (c), Rojo; Fred, Pogba; Pereira, Lingard (Mata 85), Chong (James 60); Greenwood.
Subs not used: Grant, Lindelof, Garner, McTominay.
Goals: Greenwood 68
Rochdale: Sanchez, Norrington-Davies, McNulty, Dooley (Wilbraham 75), Williams, Camps, Keohane, Rathbone (Andrew 80), Morley, Henderson (c) ((Ryan 90), Matheson
Subs not used: Lynch, Bradley, Tavares, Thomas.
Goals: Matheson 76