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 victory against a third-tier side 48 places below them in England’s football pyramid.
None of the 25 matches played on the weekend will enter the folklore of the historic competition but tiny Eastleigh did their best against four-time champions Bolton Wanderers, a club steeped in FA Cup tradition.
On a gluepot of a pitch at their 5000-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 trophy’s first three-time in succession winners 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 bottom Premier League side Aston Villa who have now gone 16 matches without a win.
Exeter held Liverpool to a 2-2 draw.
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 per cent of the ball against Sheffield 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’.”
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.
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