Former England international centre-back Wes Brown scored in the 28th minute
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer at Old Trafford
Crawley Town's dream of causing an FA Cup shock ended in defeat at Old Trafford - but not before the ambitious non-league club had given Manchester United a major scare.
Sir Alex Ferguson's Premier League leaders were fortunate Wes Brown's first-half header gave them a lead to protect as they were forced to survive a late assault from a side 93 places below them on the domestic football ladder.
Blue Square Bet Premier side Crawley - backed noisily throughout by 9,000 supporters who made the journey from Sussex - were unlucky not to earn a deserved replay as David Hunt and Matt Tubbs missed late chances to equalise.
The closest call of all came in the dying moments when Richard Brodie's looping header hit the bar and bounced to safety with United keeper Anders Lindegaard beaten.
United, undistinguished and uninspired throughout, hung on and Crawley deservedly took the plaudits in front of their own fans at the final whistle, with Sergio Torres slipping a blade of Old Trafford's grass into his sock as a keepsake from a memorable occasion.
Steve Evans' side demonstrated why they are regarded as a Football League side in waiting as their energy and ambition pushed United back for most of the second half.
And it would not have been an injustice had their efforts been rewarded with a draw.
They can now return to the business of promotion with confidence and a reputation enhanced by the manner in which they acquitted themselves at Old Trafford.
For many of Ferguson's shadow squad, this was a chastening experience that shone a harsh spotlight on their limitations as they failed to take a rare opportunity to shine on one of the biggest stages in world football.
Bebe and Gabriel Obertan, in particular, looked out of their depth against the non-leaguers but very few individual displays would have pleased Ferguson.
United's frustration was summed up in the closing moments when, with Crawley on the attack again, substitute Wayne Rooney was rightly booked for a crude and reckless hack at Kyle McFadzean as he raced clear of the striker.
Ferguson made nine changes from the derby victory against Manchester City, with only John O'Shea and Anderson surviving from the starting line-up, although match-winner Rooney was on the bench.
Crawley offered early encouragement to their huge travelling following when Ben Smith's long-range effort dipped behind United keeper Lindegaard but fell wide.
After that it was a tale of United dominating possession in the first half and Crawley showing tremendous energy and application in their attempts to keep their illustrious opponents at bay, a task they performed successfully until the 28th minute.
The visitors failed to clear Darron Gibson's corner and when he regained possession his angled cross was glanced beyond keeper Michel Kuipers by Brown.
Crawley boss Evans would have been frustrated that a lapse in concentration had undone so much of their good work in the opening exchanges.
Rooney came on at the interval but it was actually Crawley who created - and wasted - two chances in two minutes to draw level.
With 19 minutes left, the onrushing Hunt should have done better than volley wide before Tubbs was unlucky with an overhead kick from eight yards that appeared to have been deflected just over even though referee Lee Probert awarded a goal-kick.
And then, in the frantic final moments, substitute Brodie's header bounced agonisingly back off the bar.
But there was only pride in defeat for admirable Crawley as Old Trafford showed its appreciation of their efforts at the final whistle.
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