With scant regard for the romance of the FA Cup, and 6,500 visiting supporters who sang for their team non-stop throughout, goals from Juan Mata, Marcos Rojo and James Wilson ensured Manchester United avoided the humiliating fate that befell Chelsea and Manchester City in this memorable fourth round.
In the end it was routine for United, though boss Louis van Gaal wasn’t overly impressed.
“We didn’t play a very good match but it is always difficult against a defensive team. We did what we had to, we have to beat Preston now and that won’t be easy.”
Not that this replay was devoid of drama. Unfortunately, for those fans whose nightmare journey north amid traffic delays forced kick-off back 20 minutes, what little drama there was came in the opening 45 seconds.
That is how long it took for Daley Blind to play an atrocious back pass into the path of Tom Elliott who advanced clean through on goal before curling a shot past the dive of David de Gea and against the outside of United’s post.
It was hard not to imagine that such a glaring miss would set the tone for an evening in which the League Two underdogs failed to emulate Middlesbrough and, especially, Bradford who pulled off spectacular upsets at the Etihad and Stamford Bridge earlier in the round.
Sure enough, after 25 minutes of dominant possession, United broke Cambridge hearts. Angel di Maria swung over a left-wing cross to the far post where Marouane Fellaini rose impressively to head back into the six-yard area where Mata was on hand to flick the ball into the roof of the net from close range.
Seven minutes later, the Cambridge fairytale was as good as over as Rojo doubled the lead after Fellaini’s shot was blocked and the rebound spun kindly for Robin van Persie.
The Dutch international chipped in a short, accurate cross for Rojo who made no mistake with a strong header from six yards out, the Argentinian’s first goal for the club since joining from Sporting Lisbon last summer.
Either side of that second goal, Paddy McNair’s ferocious drive had been deflected wide and a 20-yard strike from di Maria sailed just over.
Still, Cambridge played their part, doubtless buoyed by the knowledge that the replay will have earned them an estimated €1.3 million.
A Cambridge line-up which featured former United winger Luke Chadwick starting at Old Trafford for the first time since 2001, might have reduced arrears when Cameron McGeehan found Ryan Donaldson before the break for a shot which bounced just wide.
Chadwick left, to a hero’s reception after 50 minutes, paving the way for former Cork City midfielder Gearoid Morrissey to make his Cambridge debut.
The Ireland U19 international even produced a rare Cambridge shot, a 65th minute effort that flew wide, although, that moment aside, the traffic was one-way. Van Persie had four presentable chances and di Maria had a 20-yard shot tipped over by Chris Dunn as United coasted to a fifth round trip to Preston.
Substitute Wilson extended the lead after 73 minutes with a well-placed left-foot shot from 18 yards after a sharp pass from Ander Herrera.
De Gea 6; McNair 8, Smalling 7, Evans 7, Rojo 7 (Young 80); Blind 6; Rooney 7, Mata 7, Di Maria 5 (Herrera 70, 6), Van Persie 6 (Wilson 65, 7), Fellaini 6.
Dunn 8; Tait 7, Nelson 7 (Miller 86), Coulson 7, Taylor 7; Donaldson 6, McGeehan 6, Champion 7, Chadwick 5 (Morrissey 50, 7); Simpson 5 (Kaikai 61, 7), Elliott 5.
J Moss 8