But as Louis van Gaal’s men flew into a quarter final tie against Arsenal, it was far from plane-sailing at Deepdale for the eleven-time FA Cup winners.
Preston North End 1-3 Manchester United
Fifth Round Proper
Monday 16 February
Winners receive £180,000 from prize fund
After a lacklustre performance in the first half, United began the second period in similar fashion and found themselves behind after Scott Laird’s deflected left-foot shot squirmed under David De Gea.
The Lilywhites held the lead for 20 minutes, and were perhaps dreaming of welcoming another Premier League giant to Deepdale.
But it was not to be as Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini turned the tie around with quickfire strikes – before a late Wayne Rooney penalty sealed the contest.
Moments before the two sides entered the field of play, the draw for the Sixth Round had been shown live to the capacity Deepdale crowd and the atmosphere was electric as the game got under way.
United dominated possession in the opening exchanges, but there was little in the way of clear-cut chances.
Rooney, playing in a more familiar advanced role, had a shot well blocked by John Welsh while Angel Di Maria fired a free-kick just wide from 25 yards.
But despite enjoying large spells in control of the ball, Van Gaal’s team were unable to trouble Thorsten Stuckmann in the Preston goal.
Di Maria did pick out Rooney with a long pass over the top of the Preston back four, who had stepped up.
The England captain beat the offside trap, but could not pluck the ball out of the air and it sailed harmlessly through to Stuckmann – who ended the half without having made a save.
Before the game it had perhaps seemed fitting that Preston were thrust into The FA Cup limelight on this particular week in mid-February.
Sir Tom Finney, who passed away a year and two days before the tie, was honoured by a minute-long standing ovation after seven minutes – the shirt number worn by one of the game’s most famous wingers.
Meanwhile, his son Brian joined England manager Roy Hodgson to draw the teams for the Sixth Round before the game.
And as they struggled for long spells, what the Manchester United side would have given for some of Finney’s guile as their narrow set-up meant they continued to struggle to break down a disciplined Preston back four.
After Laird had given the home side on 47 minutes, there was still no immediate response from Preston’s illustrious guests.
The home side could even have been 2-0 up moments later, had Tom Clarke been able to get a clean volley on a deep free-kick after out-muscling Herrera yards from goal.
Joe Garner also had a chance to notch his 15th of the season, but guided a header straight at De Gea.
At the other end, Stuckmann had finally been called into action on 57 minutes as he easily gathered Di Maria’s long-range effort to make his first save of the game.
Something had to change. Van Gaal replaced the ineffective Radamel Falcao with Ashley Young, and moved Rooney into a striking role alongside record signing Di Maria.
Louis van Gaal's side are now into the last eight of The FA Cup and will face Arsenal at home in the Sixth Round
For the first time in the game, United pushed forward some urgency and 20 minutes after falling behind, they were level after Herrera bundled a low shot past Stuckmann and in off the post.
Five minutes later, Fellaini rose to meet an Antonio Valencia cross. His header was well saved, but the Belgium international pounced on the rebound to put United ahead for the first time.
Preston had given it their all and United had finally found the fluidity that was absent for the first hour.
And their quarter final berth was booked with two minutes to go as Rooney fired home his 15th of the season from the spot, after he was brought down by Stuckmann just inside the box.
Preston North End (3-5-2): Thorsten Stuckmann; Tom Clarke (c), Paul Huntington, Bailey Wright; Neil Kilkenny, Paul Gallagher, John Welsh, Chris Humphrey, Scott Laird; Kevin Davies, Joe Garner.
Substitutes: Callum Robinson for Davies 75, Kyle Reid for Kilkenny 75, Scott Wiseman for Wright 75.
Substitutes not used: Matthew Hudson, Jack King, Josh Brownhill, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake
Bookings: Laird, Davies, Kilkenny, Stuckmann.
Goals: Laird 47.
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): David De Gea; Antonio Valencia, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw; Daley Blind, Ander Herrera; Wayne Rooney, Marouane Fellaini, Angel Di Maria; Radamel Falcao.
Substitutes: Ashley Young for Falcao 60.
Substitutes not used: Victor Valdes, Jonny Evans, Juan Mata, Adnan Januzaj, Patrick McNair, James Wilson.
Goals: Herrera 67. Fellaini 72. Rooney 87 pen.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Watch the highlights from Deepdale