After a slow start, United eventually began to take control of proceedings in the first half and went ahead through a goal from Chris Smalling, before Juan Mata made it 2-0 with a wonderful free-kick just before halftime.
Jesse Lingard added a third in the second half and United could have, and in fact probably should have, added a couple of more.
Here’s five things we’ve learnt from last night.
1) Van Gaal survives for another game
In all likelihood, Louis Van Gaal’s future was never going to be decided by a trip to Shrewsbury as the Dutchman, who remains under immense pressure, would have only been sacked had United been knocked out of the FA Cup.
In many ways, it was a lose-lose situation for the Dutchman, whose position would have surely become untenable had his side lost but who, at the same time, can’t find too much solace in United beating a League One side.
His side’s next two meetings, against Midtjylland and Arsenal, will go a long way to decide Van Gaal’s future, although one gets the feeling that, amid all the speculations surrounding him, the former Holland manager remains a lame duck and will not be at Old Trafford next season.
2) FA Cup is United’s best chance of silverware
United are a game away from returning to Wembley, albeit just for a semifinal, for the first time since they beat Wigan in the Community Shield in August 2013 under David Moyes and for the first meaningful meeting since they lost the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2011.
Getting to Wembley will not save Louis Van Gaal’s job, in fact not even winning the FA Cup would guarantee the Dutchman another season in charge, but it would represent a small slice of comfort in a season that’s been characterised by catastrophic lows.
West Ham have been one of the surprise packages of the season and in Dimitri Payet they possess a man capable of hurting any Premier League team but, for the first time since they were knocked out by Sunderland in the League Cup semifinal in 2014, United have a somewhat realistic chance of silverware.
They must make it count.
3) Shrewsbury’s shortcomings help United
Following two dismal defeats against Sunderland and Midtjylland, United arrived at the New Meadow eager to avoid a major upset. However, for all the talk of Shrewsbury hoping to capitalise on United’s ongoing crisis, the League One side never got going and United quickly took control, imposing themselves of the game without breaking sweat.
It was by no means a performance that will alter the fans’ perception of Van Gaal’s methods, particularly as it was achieved a distinctly average side, but it was efficient and, given the current circumstances, it was refreshing to experience a relatively trouble-free 90 minutes.
United have so far disposed of three lower league outfits in the FA Cup and, with the exception of Sheffield United, they’ve very rarely looked fazed but West Ham will be an altogether sterner challenge.
4) Criticism of Lingard is unjustified
In all likelihood, Jesse Lingard will never become a world class player and, under a different a manager, he might not even find himself in the start XI next season.
However, the criticism he has received this season by a number of United fans remains baffling, and not just when one considers Lingard has scored three goals in the last five games and is one of the few players in the side looking to make things happen in the final third of the pitch.
The 23-year-old has been at United since he was seven years of age and, at a time when many are worried about United forgetting their ethos, an Academy product who goes on to establish himself in the first team should, at the very least, be appreciated rather than constantly criticised.
5) United’s horrendous injury record continues
Ahead of United’s trip to Shrewsbury, Van Gaal bemoaned his options were limited by the number of injuries his side, without 13 players before kick-off, has suffered this season. One can only imagine what must have gone through the Dutchman’s mind when Will Keane was forced off with a groin injury less than five minutes after replacing Anthony Martial.
Van Gaal has been unlucky with injuries but he’s also paying the price for going into the season with a threadbare squad and for a bizarre loan policy – surely he could have recalled James Wilson rather than Keane?
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