FA Cup: Yeovil v Manchester United had magic but no upset

By Phil McNultyChief football writer
Manchester United
Yeovil boss Gary Johnson banned his team from getting "selfies" with United players but that did not stop fans

Louis van Gaal called Manchester United's meeting with Yeovil Town in misty Somerset a case of "death or gladioli"- an indicator of what can be won and lost on these special FA Cup days.

And from the moment hundreds of Yeovil fans gathered outside Huish Park's main entrance three hours before kick-off to await the arrival of Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao and company, this was an occasion giving the lie to the claims that the FA Cup has lost its lustre.

The romance of the competition would have had Yeovil, rooted to the bottom of League One despite the best efforts of their excellent manager Gary Johnson, unseating the Premier League superpower and sending Van Gaal and his players back to Old Trafford in embarrassment.

It was not to be, as goals from Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria, almost £90m worth of summer transfer acquisitions, restored reality above romance as United won 2-0 to leave Yeovil to their fight for League One survival and Van Gaal on course for what he believes is his quickest route to success.

FA Cup
Yeovil fans gathered outside the club's main entrance to witness the arrival of United's players

And yet, despite the brutal conclusion, there was so much to encourage those who still believe in the FA Cup as the world's greatest knockout competition. No other tournament offers days like this.

It was alien territory for Van Gaal as United dipped down into the Somerset - with even the possibility of some sight-seeing at Stonehenge en route on the A303 as he returned home a very satisfied man.

For the Dutchman, this was ultimately gladioli rather than death but Yeovil can claim so many of the bouquets that were being handed out at the final whistle.

Before the game, Yeovil's fans entered into the spirit with a mischievous "We Wanted City" banner and while Johnson warned his players not to be starstruck - banning "selfies" with United's players - his club threw out the red carpet to all-comers on their big day.

Such was the appeal of a glamour tie against a Premier League side that on the very day the Glovers were preparing for the game, Accrington Stanley - beaten by Yeovil in a second-round replay last month - announced their plans to mark the fact they had the possibility of facing United in the FA Cup with commemorative tickets for a game with the Red Devils that will not happen. external-linkAt least, not this season.

The League One side's fans also poked fun at their Premier League visitors with playful banners

The odds were against Yeovil. In two previous FA Cup meetings with United, they lost 3-0 in 1938 and 8-0 some 11 years later. Since beating Sunderland in 1948 they had lost their last eight FA Cup ties against top-flight opposition, whereas United had lost only once to lower league opposition in their last 39 FA Cup ties, when they were defeated 1-0 by then League One leaders Leeds United at Old Trafford in 2010.

These were odds they could not overcome.

Huish Park was sold out well in advance and the media were not only welcomed in a specially built marquee, they were also provided with prime seats within touching distance of the action.

Seat AA 006 in The Screwfix Community Stand even allowed those of us whose best playing days are behind us to get two touches of the ball in an FA Cup tie. Glory days - albeit both passes failed to find their target.

Yeovil's fans initially blocked this perfect view as they gathered on the touchline to watch United warm up, Rooney being greeted with some jeers but also plenty of applause. Once the view cleared, a trademark FA Cup tie unfolded, with a top-flight side fending off a potential giant-killing.

It was also the perfect vantage point to appreciate the qualities on display, such as the sheer energy of Rooney, the occasionally magical first touch of Falcao and the sweat-stained levels of commitment from Yeovil, which will surely result in better days should it be repeated in the coming weeks in League One.

It was also a place where the passion and pain of players searching for FA Cup success could be heard, literally, in a first-half clash of heads between Paddy McNair and Kieffer Moore that left both players heavily bandaged but still determined to carry on.

The FA Cup throws up moments of sadness as well as glory and in this case the sadness went to 22-year-old Moore, signed from Dorchester Town in 2013, who seemed to freeze when presented with a perfect chance to put Yeovil ahead after 55 minutes, his hesitant finish claimed comfortably by United keeper David De Gea.

At eye-level just feet from the pitch, it was also the ideal position to witness the industry which makes Rooney so vital to United and England. It gave an even greater perspective on the manner in which he arrives all over the pitch, in defence, midfield and attack, to assist United's cause.

This is what marks Rooney out - a willingness to do the dirty work and drive his team to victory against lower league opposition on a freezing FA Cup third round night in Somerset as well as against elite opposition.

Wayne Rooney
Yeovil captain Joseph Edwards' consolation for defeat came in the shape of a swapped shirt with Rooney

Yeovil will return to their battle to move up League One. The next stop is Barnsley on Saturday before Bradford City are welcomed to Huish Park on 17 January. Different world. Grim reality.

And despite this defeat, Yeovil captain Joseph Edwards, a Manchester United fan, was able to claim the souvenir he will treasure forever when he got his hands on Rooney's shirt. His family had postponed a skiing holiday to be present and that prize may just act as consolation for a defeat that was expected but still painful.

As Yeovil manager Johnson conducted his post-match debrief, the marquee where he was addressing the media was suddenly filled with the sound of a helicopter on take-off. "Is that Sir Alex?" he asked, before praising Van Gaal for his generosity and his team's performance.

Van Gaal may have claimed the gladioli but Yeovil - players, manager, club and supporters - can take their share of the glory on a day and occasion when they embraced the FA Cup spirit and proved it is still alive and well.

Manchester United
The matchday programme featured a number of blank pages for fans to get autographs
Sir Alex Ferguson
Former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson (centre) arrived by helicopter to see the game
Manchester United
There were 9,264 fans in attendance at the 9,500 capacity Huish Park
Louis van Gaal
The game was Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal's (right) first experience of the FA Cup