Manchester United defender Harry Maguire scores late winner against Norwich City in FA Cup
United scramble into semi-finals after extra-time victory at Carrow Road
There are better times to be a Manchester United loyalist than in the wake of a first Liverpool league title in 30 years, especially when United have to look up from five places beneath their rivals’ new perch.
There are better ways to reach an FA Cup semi-final, too, than toiling for two hours to dispose of the team who are bottom of the Premier League, a Norwich City reduced to 10 men for all of extra-time.
Eventually, thanks to Harry Maguire’s scrappy winner, they were spared the suspense of a penalty shoot-out with less than three minutes to spare. They had lost the lead given them in by Odio Ighalo, with Todd Cantwell equalising, and made heavy weather of reaching a fifth semi-final in as many years.
United had used 17 players, too, a record made possible by the extra substitutions now The Norwegian’s strategy was shaped by several factors: the concentrated fixture-list caused by the exceptional circumstances around the season; a loyalty to those players who had pushed United to the last-eight of the FA Cup – “this is the team that deserved another chance” – and, perhaps, a little muscle-flexing about United’s strength in depth.
“We trust the players. I think there’s 10 full internationals in our starting XI,” Solskjaer pointed out.
The downside was that there were five United men kicking off a competitive match for the first time since early March. And they looked rusty as a unit.
United were anything but slick at the start, and, apart from a pair of dainty cameos from Jesse Lingard, a neat backheel from Scott McTominay intended for Odion Ighalo, and an Eric Bailly header well off target from a corner, there was little in the opening 45 minutes to raise the visitors’ pulse.
Norwich, a little sluggish themselves, catalogued the better set of early opportunities, and Cantwell in particular examined the match-readiness of Diogo Dalot and Bailly, who were the defensive marshalls of Cantwell’s left flank, and found it wanting.
Slipping past Bailly, a menacing cross from Cantwell was snuffed out, and the pity for Norwich was that Cantwell, launching a counter-attack was not quite on the same wavelength as Teemu Pukki as they outnumbered opponents just after the half-hour.
Pukki is rusty, too. He was short of goals even in the month or so leading up to the March shutdown, and Norwich’s leading scorer looks some way from his 2019 form.
But for a Maguire block, Norwich would probably have led going into half-time, the United defender putting his body in the way of thumping drive from Lukas Rupp. Norwich threatened again in the immediate follow up. Solskjaer had been warned.
But where there is Bruno Fernandes, as United have quickly learned, there is hope. The Portuguese, signed in the winter transfer window, has earned authority with confidence and swagger of his passing.
There are already signs of leadership. At the first drinks interval, after 22 minutes, it was the newcomer who was issuing instructions to buck up a lacklustre display.
Come the second half, it was Fernandes who, for just about the first time in the contest, found space behind the Norwich defence. He was grateful to Fred’s clever lobbed pass. Fernandes read it perfectly but his execution, attempting a volleyed strike as the ball passed over his shoulder, was untidy, the effort skewing away in the opposite direction he wanted it to.
Ighalo showed a defter touch to put United in front. A Luke Shaw cross found its way to the centre-forward via Juan Mata and as the ball dropped, Ighalo connected with the side of his boot. The Nigeria international is proving no less useful a recruit than Fernandes.
This was his fourth start for United since joining on loan from Shanghai Shenhua; he has scored in all four of them.
United had upped their game, and Solskjaer decided to add pace to the rediscovered urgency, bringing on Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford.
The disruption allowed Norwich to regain their grip, however, and Cantwell’s precise strike between Romero’s tepid dive and the goalkeeper’s left-hand post rewarded a period of pressure and an excellent all-round showing from the scorer.
At 1-1, Cantwell opened up United again, to set up Emiliano Buendia’s drive, wide of Romero’s goal, and Norwich seemed to be in the ascendency. But when Timm Klose was sent off for hauling back Ighalo, they were at a disadvantage, scraping into extra-time thanks only to an excellent double save from Tim Krul, who kept out Paul Pogba and Greenwood deep into stoppage time.
Krul stretched again to deny Rashford in extra time, after which Anthony Martial became – a first here for the FA Cup – the sixth substitute brought on by Solskjaer.
The Dutch keeper then parried away a Pogba cannonball, and athletically scooped a Maguire header clear. Maguire would then poke a loose ball past him to break Norwich hearts.
Updated: June 27, 2020 11:58 PM