Tranmere vs Manchester United result: Visitors avoid banana skin in style to bring some relief

Mark Critchley
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates with Diogo Dalot: Reuters

You would not have known that Manchester United are a club with many problems if judging solely by events on the pitch during this emphatic FA Cup fourth round win away over Tranmere Rovers.

But the biggest margin of victory under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s management to date was secured against a backdrop of yet more chanting against the Glazer ownership and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

The chants were a reminder that this victory over a side battling relegation from the third tier adds little to the debate about United’s long-standing malaise, yet those same travelling supporters at least left happy with six unanswered goals and a place in Monday’s draw.

After last week’s dismal defeat to Burnley, there was a very real sense of trepidation for United around this visit to Prenton Park, not least because of a playing surface recently described as “a stain on the football club”.

A large, white tarpaulin protected the pitch from Sunday morning’s intermittent downpours in the Wirral but when it was removed in the hours before kick-off, what lay underneath was brown, patchy and especially treacherous on the flanks.

Fears of twisted ankles were unfounded, though. United’s already-depleted squad avoided suffering any fresh injuries and instead confidently took this tie as an opportunity to record a rare dominant win, with many of their goals coming from unlikely sources.

The tie was effectively settled in the space of six first-half minutes, starting with Harry Maguire’s first-ever United goal. Around 25 yards out, Solskjaer’s newly-appointed club captain stepped inside David Perkins and found the far, top right-hand corner.

Manchester United's Victor Lindelof challenges for the ball (Reuters)

Maguire was not the only United player to open his account. Diogo Dalot did the same just three minutes later, exchanging a one-two with Anthony Martial, turning left-back Liam Ridehalgh and curling the ball out of goalkeeper Scott Davies’ reach.

Jesse Lingard’s first domestic goal in a year followed. He too beat Davies by curling for the far corner and celebrated with the relish of a player who has faced more scrutiny and criticism than most over the last 12 months.

It was around this point when the songs directed at the Glazers and Woodward started. A green flare – ostensibly a reference to the green-and-gold movement – was set off in the away end.

This was the first time they have been heard among United’s committed, knowledgeable away support and it is telling that – like against Norwich a fortnight ago – they were still sung during what was an effortless victory.

It did not deter their players, though. The fourth goal is best captured by the disbelieving tone of the club’s official Twitter account. “PHIL JONES HAS SCORED”, it declared in all caps. It was the centre-half’s first in six years, since a win at West Bromwich Albion during the David Moyes era.

More pertinently, it was a goal scored directly from a corner – a far-post looping header that Perkins could not clear off the goal-line. Solskjaer’s United have been among the most ineffective teams in the country on attacking set-pieces.

A more familiar name scored the fifth, with Martial curling a deflected effort from the edge of the penalty area. United were playing with Tranmere by this point, and it was no surprise that Solskjaer made two half-time substitutions and effectively shut up shop.

Only one goal subsequently followed in the second half and it came from the penalty spot, with Mason Greenwood calmly converting after substitute Tahith Chong was tripped by Davies.

Solskjaer’s name was sung by the away end shortly after. It is clear where they believe the blame for this difficult campaign and seven years of underachievement lies, but this was at least one of United’s better days and an upset impressively avoided.