“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” was Roy Keane’s verdict on Manchester United’s 3-1 comeback victory over Fulham in the FA Cup quarter-final.
Having amassed nearly 500 caps and captained the club during their most successful period in the club’s history, it’s safe to say Keane knows a thing or two about winning.
The 51-year-old, speaking as an ITV pundit, stressed United will need to perform better if they are to overcome Brighton in the semi-final at Wembley in April.
But he also recognized the importance, in a knockout match, of Just Getting It Done. He will be the first to admit that Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have not always been brilliant. But when they weren’t, they invariably made enough to win games.
After ending their six-year wait for silverware with a routine 2-0 win over Newcastle in the League Cup final at Wembley that looked like something out of the glory days of Keane and Ferguson, Erik ten Hag’s side looks unrecognizable for the team that finished with a record number of Premier League points last season.
It was a big step forward for the club, but the following weekend’s historic 7-0 defeat to struggling Liverpool was concrete proof that this project remains a work in progress. Casemiro’s subsequent red card and two points lost against Southampton reminded us that there is still work to be done to finish in the top four.
The backlash looked in danger of turning into a wobble as this season’s surprise package Fulham deservedly took a 1-0 lead on the hour in the quarter-finals at Old Trafford. In Casemiro’s absence, it was Portuguese-speaking powerhouse midfielder Joao Palhinha who dominated in the center of the park.
“We were clearly the best team on the pitch,” Marco Silva stressed in his post-match interview. It might seem like sour grapes after being denied a famous cup win, but he was right. Fulham had good value for their lead and didn’t look too upset as United went in search of an equaliser.
“Up until the red card we were CLEARLY the best team on the pitch!”
Marco Silva today gives his honest answer to Fulham’s collapse at Old Trafford… 😳
🎙️ @gabrielclarke05 pic.twitter.com/fcaURhBvwa
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) March 19, 2023
That was until United got into action with a dangerous break. Willian scrambled back to block Jadon Sancho’s shot on goal.
The veteran Brazilian winger appeared to have pulled off an inspired defensive block, but replays soon revealed United’s appeals for handball were not spurious. It became clear that VAR would step in to give United a penalty and reduce Fulham to 10 men.
O nine, Aleksandar Mitrovic was so incensed that he approached referee Chris Kavanagh and subsequently received the red card which was just shown to Willian. Surprisingly, this was the impressive Serbian striker’s first consecutive red card at Fulham and his first since 2016. He has softened up in recent years, but the old red mist has descended here.
Nine men without a coach, because even Marco Silva lost his mind on the touchline and convinced himself of the expulsion.
Their frustration was understandable. They had been doing everything right for over an hour. The perfectly executed gameplan, in which Mitrovic did the job of slamming home the lead. And then, in one fell swoop, it had all been undone.
ABSOLUTE SCENES AT OLD TRAFFORD!! 😳
Tempers flare as Fulham go from 1-0 down to conceding a penalty and down to 9 men… 🤯#ITVFootball | @EmiratesFACup pic.twitter.com/6vWTYNgRGT
— ITV Football (@itvfootball) March 19, 2023
Meanwhile, the hosts kept their lead in the game, stuck professionally to their task and needed just two minutes to score another goal against the nine men away. From there, their progression to the semifinals seemed inevitable.
Bruno Fernandes’ second goal, in full injury time, added the luster. There have been four home FA Cup ties this season and four 3-1 wins. They also came from behind in the last round, and in the previous round they made Andy Carroll lose his temper.
“We showed great character. Every time this team comes out, they show the necessary personality and determination” Ten Hag told the BBC.
“Fulham are a good team and you have to be good to overcome them.”
The win was United’s 32nd of the season. Nowhere in Europe has more. They remain on track to play every game possible this season and could still finish 2022-23 with three silver pieces. Ten Hag’s team also seems well positioned to achieve their primary objective of returning to the Champions League.
It looks like all the Manchester United we’ve come to know in the Premier League era.
But the real test that they’re back is having the courage to pull off a win when they’re not at their best while cracking their opponents’ brains. Straight from the Fergie era.
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