By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – It was not a day for FA Cup romantics as Manchester United scrambled past Sheffield United and minor league Eastleigh came within a whisker of causing the third round’s only genuine shock on Saturday.
Old Trafford fans endured more than 90 minutes of insipid stalemate before Wayne Rooney’s stoppage-time penalty gave 11-times winners Manchester United a 1-0 win against a third-tier side 48 places below them in the football pyramid.
None of the 25 matches played on Saturday will enter the folklore of the historic competition but tiny Eastleigh did their best against four-times winners Bolton Wanderers, a club steeped in FA Cup tradition.
On a gluepot of a pitch at their 5,000-capacity Ten Acres ground, the part-timers who are nicknamed the Spitfires after the World War II plane that first flew from the local airfield, led through Dorian Dervite’s own goal.
However, they had their wings clipped when debt-ridden second tier strugglers Bolton levelled three minutes from time.
Holders Arsenal, bidding to become the first club to win the trophy three times in succession since Blackburn Rovers in the 19th century, came from a goal down to beat Sunderland 3-1.
Manchester City and Everton advanced, Manuel Pellegrini’s men winning 3-0 at Norwich City in one of four all top-flight clashes while Roberto Martinez’s team ended the hopes of fourth-tier Dagenham and Redbridge with a 2-0 victory at Goodison Park.
Wycombe Wanderers will be in the hat for the fourth round, along with fourth-tier rivals Exeter City, after a 1-1 draw at home to the Premier League’s bottom club Aston Villa who have now gone 16 matches without a win.
Exeter held Liverpool to a 2-2 draw on Friday.
Watford beat Premier League rivals Newcastle United 1-0, Crystal Palace overcame Southampton 2-1 and West Ham United edged past second tier Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 at Upton Park.
Manchester United enjoyed 71 percent of the ball against Sheffield United but managed only two shots on target as they ran out of ideas against hard-working opposition.
Rooney finally broke the deadlock, clinically converting his spot kick after Memphis Depay tumbled theatrically in the area.
“Everybody should give applause to Sheffield United. They were very organised but it is much more difficult to attack than to defend,” said Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal.
Staff at Eastleigh, who play in the fifth-tier National League, worked overtime to make their boggy pitch playable.
Their efforts looked like being rewarded as the hosts took the lead after 51 minutes when Dervite nudged a low cross into his own goal.
With Eastleigh fans counting down the remaining minutes, Bolton’s Darren Pratley levelled to deny the minor leaguers a place in the fourth round for the first time in their 70-year history.
“We deserved to win,” Eastleigh manager Chris Todd said.
“We’re the National League team, they are the Championship side, three divisions above us, but I heard shouts from their bench saying ‘get it in the corner’.”
Bolton are bottom of the Championship with crippling debts although their late escape showed they still have a “beating heart”, according to manager Neil Lennon.
Premier League leaders Arsenal notched a 13th consecutive FA Cup win with goals from Joel Campbell, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud after Jeremain Lens put Sunderland ahead.
Sergio Aguero scored a superb individual goal and set one up for Kelechi Iheanacho as Manchester City eased past Norwich.
Arouna Kone and Kevin Mirallas earned Everton victory over Dagenham who are 79 places lower.
No Premier League clubs suffered defeats by lower league opponents but West Bromwich Albion needed James Morrison’s late goal to steal a 2-2 draw at home to Bristol City.
On Sunday, Leicester City visit Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea host Scunthorpe United and Swansea City hope to avoid embarrassment at fourth tier Oxford United.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)