No sirens but uneasy truce for troubled Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal must have feared the worst when he heard the pre-match announcements at the iPro Stadium.

“In the event of emergency, you will hear the following noise,” said the booming voice on the public address system.

The Dutchman could have been forgiven for assuming the announcement would be followed by the sound of angry Manchester United supporters demanding his removal.

A comfortable yet stilted victory meant he needn’t have worried.

The alarm bells that threatened to ring on his troubled reign never came as Championship promotion hopefuls Derby County proved game but ultimately limited opposition that Van Gaal’s men overcame.

There is no suggestion, however, that the sacking sirens have been silenced.

Progression to the fifth round of the FA Cup simply muted them for now.

There was still too much hesitancy; too many nerves and attacking errors to declare Van Gaal even close to safe.

Three goals came and Derby were dispatched, yet United still appeared inhibited.

They did little in the opening moments to allay Van Gaal’s fears of another long, testing evening, but their disjointed attacking efforts were ignored, at least for the time being, by the visiting supporters.

The massed ranks of United followers sang their songs, poked fun at Manchester City and saluted in song Nemanja Vidic, their former captain who had announced his retirement a few hours earlier.

Van Gaal’s name never came up.

Nor, in fact, did the names of any of his players.

Yet given the volume of the criticism heading in their direction in recent weeks, manager and team might well have treated indifference as a step in the right direction.

It was left to an old stager — and the only authentic Old Trafford hero on view — to engage United’s fans with events on the field.

Wayne Rooney, still the most likely source of inspiration for a plodding team, collected possession just outside Derby’s penalty area in the 16th minute and bent a fine shot past Scott Carson.

Suddenly, the supporters’ Rooney repertoire was dusted off and peace broke out between fans and gaffer.

The volume was maintained as fans encouraged their team to build on Rooney’s work, but the lack of belief and cohesion that had put Van Gaal in the firing line continued to undermine their efforts.

The evidence was clear that United were trying to escape their attacking malaise.

They attempted to move the ball more quickly than of late with Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, the youngsters charged with providing width, enjoying some qualified success against Derby’s full-backs.

Yet still, too many passes lacked conviction, too many went sideways and too many went astray.

Defending is an issue, too, and the equaliser from George Thorne that silenced United’s fans exposed United’s failings at the back.

The finish from the talented young midfielder was crisp and composed, yet the way United opened up to allow him space must have worried Van Gaal, for whom organisation is worn as a badge of honour.

That spark that was missing before the break did not appear to any great extent after it, although Lingard and Daley Blind did enough to restore their lead when the winger crossed for the defender to finish well.

That was not enough, though, to restore the vigour that United fans crave, and with Derby still threatening an equaliser, United could not relax until seven minutes before half-time, when Juan Mata’s final touch before being replaced turned home Martial’s cross to put the tie beyond doubt.

United progressed with little fuss yet Van Gaal never left his dugout and supporters never sang his name.

There was an uneasy truce, but few signs of love.

The emergency never materialised and Van Gaal never found out how that noise might sound.

Yet he cannot believe for one moment he has avoided it altogether.


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