Sir Alex Ferguson would have approved of the intent, if not the performance. By the end Manchester United had eight attacking players on the pitch. And when their moment came, it was their only true defender who was the furthest man forward to seize it.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer certainly embodies the spirit of his mentor – if in doubt, throw on a striker – even if the team remain some way diminished the previous incarnations. Still, fourteen games unbeaten with an FA Cup semi final to look forward to and the final stages of the Europa League almost certainly to come, it is shaping up to be a reasonable season.
Solskjaer used his full complement of six substitutes, the first time more than half a team has been changed in an English competitive game, and whilst this performance matched the sterile atmosphere and will not linger long in the memory, the sight of Harry Maguire leading the charge, a captain to the last, did create a lasting impression.
Manchester United are into the FA Cup semi-final after beating Norwich 2-1 after being frustrated deep into extra-time
Harry Maguire’s late, lunging strike was the difference after raining shots on goal after the hosts went down to 10-men
Norwich battled bravely and looked the better side at times but couldn’t hold out after going a man down late-on
United chucked everything at an FA Cup tie that started in timid fashion yet ended in drama. Seemingly in control when they took a 51st minute lead, they relinquished their hold on the game when a Todd Cantwell equaliser took the game into extra time.
Even then, the odds were further stacked outrageously in United’s favour when, in the dying minutes of normal time, Timm Klose had wrestled Ighalo to the ground, rather than allow him a chance to win the game.
Against ten men, the imbalance had been slightly ridiculous. By the end United were playing with a front four of Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Ighalo and Marcus Rashford. With full backs pushing on, Nemanja Matic nominally a centre half and Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in midfield, it was as close to all-out attack as is possible to get.
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
Norwich (4-1-4-1): Krul 8; Aarons 6, Godfrey 5, Klose 6 [sent off], Lewis 6.5; Tettey 7; Buendia 7 (Duda 90 6) Rupp 6 (Hernandez 62 7.5), McLean 6, Cantwell 8 (Trybull 89 6); Pukki 5 (Drmic 71 5.5)
Subs: McGovern, Varncic, Leitner, Stiepermann, Idah
Goals: Cantwell (75)
Manager: Daniel Farke
Man Utd (4-2-3-1): Romero 6; Dalot 6 (Williams 63 6) Bailly 6 (Martial 97 7), Maguire 8, Shaw 7; Fred 6 (Pogba 77 7) McTominay 6 (Matic 77 6.5); Mata 6 (Greenwood 63 6.5), Fernandes 7.5, Lingard 6 (Rashford 63 6.5); Ighalo 7.5
Subs: De Gea, Pereira, Fosu-Mensah
Goals: Ighalo (51), Maguire (118)
Manager: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Todd Cantwell’s strike with just 15 minutes to go gave Norwich a deserved leveller, hitting it from the edge of the box
Cantwell was the Canaries’ main danger man as Norwich looked the better side at times, giving United concerns
The draw will take place during half-time of Sunday’s tie between Newcastle United and Manchester City. With safety restrictions in place because of Covid-19, Alan Shearer will pull the teams out of the hat on his own under the guidance of host Gary Lineker. The semi-finals are due to take place over the weekend of July 18 and 19.
There remained just three minutes for Norwich to hang on for penalties and a chance to equal their best ever FA Cup performance by reaching a semi final. Tim Krul had flung himself around goal, especially in extra time, notably pushing away a Marcus Rashford header on 94 minutes, and seemed to be unbeatable.
As United probed once again, Paul Pogba, on a substitute and eager to create an impression, dinked a delightful ball into the penalty area which Igahlo touched back to Anthony Martial. He got a touch but it was the unfortunate Ben Godfrey, guilty of a glaring miss earlier, who made the crucial deflection that allowed the ball to bobble across goal.
Amidst the scramble and emerging from a sea of bodies, Maguire swung out a leg, connected and at last Tim Krul was beaten. It was cruel on Norwich as Maguire was submerged beneath relieved team-mates as United celebrated.
Odion Ighalo continued his record of scoring in every game he has started for United with a close-range flick after 51 minutes
The hosts went down to 10-men with late in normal time as Timm Klose was sent-off for a pull on striker Odion Ighalo
‘With them being down to ten men and us having dominated and pushing them back it was time to get the forwards on, get Nemanja playing centre back,’ said Solskjaer. ‘We only needed one centre back to be fair so we could get Harry in the box. Sometimes it just doesn’t work: in training it looks great and on paper it looks great but then you face an opposition and they want to make it difficult for you.’
More significant in following the Fergie tradition would be in collecting a trophy, which would be their first in three years. ‘It’s important for this team to win their first trophy together, to get to their first final together – that would help the winning culture we are trying to build here,’ said Solskjaer.
Despite the inevitability of relegation, Carrow Road would have been abuzz on an evening like this, their first FA Cup quarter-final for 28 years. As such, it was hard to enter into the spirt of the occasion with just a few scouts, analysts and media personnel dotted around.
United were sluggish in the first-half but began pouring forward after the sending off, but the game looked set for penalties
Everyone is used to the sight of no fans by now. It’s just nobody is used to how it feels: flat. The FA Cup is more important to fans than clubs themselves; without them, it was left bereft.
‘It is strange to play this kind of game behind closed doors,’ said Daniel Farke. ‘It was our biggest cup game for 28 years, we had come through three tough away games to get here and then we have a proper home game, floodlights and special night at Carrow Road, a night to remember. It would have been a fantastic atmosphere but we have also made supporters proud with this performance and our desire.’
There was plenty of earnest endeavour from both teams in that opening 45 minutes but precious little quality and not a shot on goal. Indeed, it wasn’t until Kenny McLean surged forward on 29 minutes that there was anticipation of any kind, though any nascent excitement quickly dissipated when he shot high into the stands.
United brought on the big guns towards the end of the game but continued to be frustrated despite Paul Pogba’s influence
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side now move into the semi-finals, hunting for his first trophy as the Old Trafford side’s boss
United dominated possession but did little with it until the 51st minute. Maguire drilled in a ball for Luke Shaw, who drove past Emi Buendia with ease. Shaw cut the ball back Mata forced it into the path of a lurking Igahlo, who would have been offside had Max Aarons not been lingering deep on the right flank. Ighalo raised his foot athletically to direct the ball past Krul to score his fifth goal for United, all in cup competitions.
With Greenwood and Rashford coming off the bench, United had a platform to go on and win convincingly. Yet Norwich found inspiration in adversity. On 69 minutes, a swirling Buendia freekick was deflected by Bruno Fernandes into the path of Godfrey.
But the centre half’s brain was scrambled, running beyond the ball and deflecting it away when, three yards out, he needed just the merest touch to score.
No matter. Two minutes later Onel Hernandez was allowed to cut inside from the right and Buenida eased the ball on to Cantwell. Sizing his chance from 25 yards, he went for swerve rather than power, the ball bending past the sizeable obstacle of Maguire and tricking Sergio Romero as it bent past him and in for a deserved equaliser and the chance to take United into extra time.