Wayne Rooney’s last-gasp penalty might have saved Louis van Gaal’s job, the flagging squad could not have coped with a replay and other things we learned from Manchester United 1 Sheffield United 0

By North-west correspondent Alex Stevens

Rooney penalty gives Van Gaal more time

Had the England skipper not slammed home the injury-time penalty, the pressure would have intensified on Van Gaal. After the two steps forward of the win over Swansea and the goal-less draw against Chelsea, United were in danger of taking two steps back against a team in the third tier of English football. The travelling fans serenaded the Dutchman with chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ during the second half as United spluttered, wheezed and closed in on their eighth goal-less draw of the season. Van Gaal looked powerless in the stands before Memphis Depay won a last-gasp spot-kick and Rooney emphatically converted it. It felt like a hollow victory but Van Gaal will take what he can get.

The last thing United needed was a replay

Bitter rivals Liverpool and United have much in common as they struggle to cope with exhausting schedules. Both have played 30 matches this season – more than any other Premier League teams – and both will play Europa League ties next month. Van Gaal revealed at his media conference on Friday that a number of his players, including Ashley Young, are in the ‘red zone’, the point of fatigue where a sportsman is most at risk of injury. The last thing United needed was a replay.

Testing times: Old Trafford is openly unhappy at team's sterile playing style

Testing times: Old Trafford is openly unhappy at team’s sterile playing style

The joy has been sucked from United

For United supporters, this really was the most benign of new year’s fare. But then you wouldn’t want Van Gaal organising a weekend knees-up. You can imagine what would happen. Despite spending a fortune at the butchers, he’d serve up a load of under-cooked meat and tasteless vegetables. Bucks Fizz would replace Dom Perignon. He would suck the joy from the most joyous of celebration.

Depay has mobility in a squad badly lacking it

The Dutchman’s debut campaign has featured more misses than hits. But the second-half substitute is the sole reason United do not have to travel to Bramall Lane for an FA Cup replay they would have dreaded. Depay had the conviction to run at the visitors’ defence late on and got his reward when a rash tackle upended him in the box. The United man made the most of it but a spot-kick was the correct decision. In a squad sorely lacking in flair and mobility, Depay at least provides some.

Louis van Gaal has presided over Manchester United's failure to reach the Champions League knockout stages

Target man: Van Gaal was jeered by supporters in the wake of his team’s latest dreary display

United fans sing for Mourinho

The United faithful applauded their team off at Old Trafford after another wretched performance. They got a few waves from Van Gaals but, despite the last-gasp win, few were interested in responding in kind. Instead, a section of United fans joined the mischievous travelling supporters in singing for Jose Mourinho, whose sudden availability makes him such an attractive possibility for the Premier League giants. Van Gaal’s much-trumpeted philosophy appears to be on its last legs.