Match ends, Preston North End 1, Manchester United 3.
Manchester United survived a second-half scare at Deepdale to see off Preston and set up an FA Cup quarter-final tie with holders Arsenal.
A season of high-profile cup upsets looked like it could claim yet another victim when Scott Laird fired the League One side ahead soon after the break.
But United's disjointed attack finally found some fluidity when expensive loan signing Radamel Falcao was replaced after an hour, and recalled midfielder Ander Herrera led the revival.
Herrera, making only his third start in three months, squeezed home the equaliser with Wayne Rooney avoiding contact with the ball in an offside position, before Marouane Fellaini's close-range finish gave United the lead in a thrilling tie.
Rooney, back playing in a more advanced role, made certain of victory with a late penalty that he won and converted himself to give the scoreline a gloss that Preston did not deserve.
If United boss Louis van Gaal did not quite restore Rooney to his front line for this tie, he did at least push his captain higher up the pitch from the deeper midfield position he has occupied recently.
His movement was impressive early on but being closer to the sharp end did not allow Rooney more scoring opportunities, with a blocked shot from Luke Shaw's pull-back his only effort on goal in the first half.
His United team-mates were also frustrated as they struggled to break down a well-drilled and hard-working North End side, roared on by a noisy home support.
Angel Di Maria bent a free-kick a few inches wide but that was the closest the 11-times winners came to making the breakthrough before the interval.
However you described Van Gaal's latest formation - 4-1-2-2-1 being a close approximation - it was not helping United turn their vastly superior possession into chances.
When they did find time and space in dangerous positions their delivery was frequently disappointing, with Di Maria a repeat offender with wasted balls.
It all meant Preston goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann did not have a shot to save before the break
North End's own threat had been restricted to a couple of tame shots from distance and a Joe Garner header that looped over the bar.
But that all changed two minutes into the second half when Garner sent Laird galloping into the box to power in a shot that was heading wide before deflecting off Antonio Valencia and squeezing under De Gea.
|FA Cup quarter-final draw|
|Aston Villa v West Brom|
|Bradford City v Reading|
|Liverpool v Blackburn|
|Manchester United v Arsenal|
|Ties to be played on the weekend of 7-8 March|
United's response was hardly venomous, with the Preston defence easily dealing with the crosses hoisted into their box.
In fact the home side went closer to making it 2-0 when Tom Clarke got on the end of a whipped free-kick but could not connect with his shot in front of goal.
After an hour, Van Gaal had seen enough. He hauled off the ineffective Falcao for Ashley Young in a change that helped turn the game in his side's favour.
Young supplied the pass for Herrera's equaliser and Fellaini, pushed further forward as part of the switch, followed up his own saved header to power home United's winner from close range.
Preston were not quite finished yet, with Kyel Reid fizzing one shot wide and Callum Robinson firing another straight at De Gea from the edge of the area.
But United made sure of their progress with two minutes to go when Stuckmann sent Rooney tumbling, although there were some suggestions he might have dived, and he stepped up to send his penalty high into his net.
Preston boss Simon Grayson:
"We did create some good chances at times and the players can wake up in the morning and be very proud of what they've done.
"Hopefully we can use this as motivation for the rest of the year. Our sole aim at the start of the season really was to get promoted to the Championship.
"We'll take a lot of positives and we'll take the money - we need more money to get some more players in."
- 21StuckmannBooked at 87mins
- 6WrightSubstituted forWisemanat 75'minutes
- 8KilkennyBooked at 67minsSubstituted forReidat 75'minutes
- 3LairdBooked at 48mins
- 9DaviesBooked at 39minsSubstituted forRobinsonat 75'minutes
- 1de Gea
- 25A Valencia
- 5RojoBooked at 69mins
- 7Di María
- 9FalcaoSubstituted forYoungat 60'minutes
- Phil Dowd
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, Preston North End 1, Manchester United 3.
Attempt missed. Joe Garner (Preston North End) header from the right side of the six yard box misses to the right. Assisted by Paul Gallagher with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Preston North End. Conceded by Antonio Valencia.
Hand ball by Paul Gallagher (Preston North End).
Attempt missed. John Welsh (Preston North End) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left following a corner.
Attempt blocked. Paul Gallagher (Preston North End) right footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked.
Attempt saved. Scott Laird (Preston North End) header from the right side of the six yard box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Kyel Reid with a cross.
Corner, Preston North End. Conceded by Antonio Valencia.
Daley Blind (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Chris Humphrey (Preston North End).
Goal! Preston North End 1, Manchester United 3. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) converts the penalty with a right footed shot to the top left corner.
Thorsten Stuckmann (Preston North End) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Penalty Manchester United. Wayne Rooney draws a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty conceded by Thorsten Stuckmann (Preston North End) after a foul in the penalty area.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Paul Gallagher (Preston North End).
Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Tom Clarke (Preston North End).
Attempt saved. Callum Robinson (Preston North End) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the centre of the goal.