Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Manchester United beat fellow Premier League side Huddersfield to progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Lukaku opened the scoring after just three minutes, racing onto Juan Mata’s through ball before finishing at the near post.
The Belgium striker then got his 21st goal of the season early in the second half as he again broke clear of the Huddersfield defence, this time picking up Alexis Sanchez’s pass before calmly slotting beyond Jonas Lossl.
Juan Mata had a goal ruled out just before half time by the video assistant referee (VAR), although there was some confusion over whether the decision was a correct one.
But ultimately it did not matter as Manchester United set up a quarter-final tie with Brighton at Old Trafford.
Huddersfield, who are 17th in the Premier League, gave a good account of themselves and created plenty of chances in a dominant first-half performance.
Tom Ince twice went close, bending an effort just wide of the far post after being put through by Rajiv van la Parra before the former Derby forward narrowly failed to get the right connection to a Florent Hadergjonaj pass in behind the defence.
However, the Yorkshire club’s focus will now return to ensuring Premier League survival.
VAR a talking point again
The Video Assistant Referee is being trialled in the FA Cup and League Cup this season and opinion on its contribution has been mixed.
It was praised after correctly overturning a decision to rule out Kelechi Iheanacho’s strike for Leicester in their 2-0 FA Cup win over Fleetwood last month but was also called a “shambles” by Alan Shearer for failing to award Chelsea a penalty in their FA Cup replay with Norwich.
Its contribution in this game also proved a talking point.
Mata appeared to have put Manchester United 2-0 up just before the break when he ran on to Ashley Young’s neat pass but while the visiting team was celebrating, referee Kevin Friend listened to his earpiece for the VAR’s input.
After a wait of around a minute, the goal was not given for offside.
“On the pitch I did not know if I was offside or not because the line was very tight,” Mata told BBC Sport. “I did what I have to do, which is score and celebrate, then I saw the referee speaking [into his earpiece].
“I am up for VAR to be honest, it is good for football. But today it seems like the decision was not very clear. I think we all wished the decision was made quicker.
“If it is not very clear I was always told the referee should give the benefit of the doubt but today they probably did not see any doubt watching the replay.”
Speaking on BT Sport at half-time, former United midfielder Paul Scholes said: “I don’t even think a Huddersfield player was appealing for offside. It’s very strange.”
However, former England manager Steve McClaren, commentating on the game for BBC Radio 5 live, felt it was the correct decision to rule the goal out.
“We saw it once and our judgement was that Mata was onside. I’m satisfied after seeing it again, it’s offside,” he said.
“It was close. There are teething problems with VAR, but if it takes 20 minutes, that’s how long it should take. If it proves that it’s the right decision, then it’s right to have VAR.”
Not vintage Man Utd, but job done
Much of the focus in the build up to the game had been on Paul Pogba, with Jose Mourinho using his pre-match news conference to dismiss reports the 24-year-old regretted joining the club and could leave this summer as “lies”.
Mourinho also confirmed Pogba, who has been struggling for form recently, would start at the John Smith’s Stadium but it was confirmed on Saturday morning that the France midfielder would actually miss the game because of illness.
Manchester United arguably missed Pogba’s presence in the first half of this game as they found themselves constantly overrun in midfield. The Terriers finished the first half with 54% of the possession, with Mourinho’s side largely limited to hopeful balls up to Lukaku.
But two moments of quality from their key creators got the job done, with Mata and Sanchez both expertly opening up the home side’s defence to allow Lukaku to do the rest.
The striker’s form in the Premier League has been mixed but he is certainly playing his part in Manchester United’s FA Cup run and has now scored 11 goals in his last 10 appearances in the competition.
A performance to give Huddersfield hope
Huddersfield, promoted to the Premier League last season, produced arguably their best result of the campaign so far when they ended Manchester United’s unbeaten start with victory at the John Smith’s Stadium in October.
The Terriers were aided by a couple of individual errors that day but ultimately fully deserved their victory for a hard-working and determined display.
The outcome may have been different this time, but this was arguably a better display by Huddersfield. They were confident on the ball and pressed Manchester United when they didn’t have it and, for large periods, were more than a match for the side currently sitting in second place in the Premier League.
In the end it was the quality of finishing that proved the difference, but this performance will give Huddersfield fans belief that their side can avoid a swift return to the Championship.
Man of the match – Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United)
Assist king Mata – the stats
- Man Utd have progressed past the fifth round on each of the last nine occasions they have reached this stage.
- Huddersfield have won just one of their last 14 games in all competitions against Man Utd (D3 L10).
- Romelu Lukaku has scored 11 goals in his last 10 FA Cup appearances.
- Lukaku’s opener was scored after two minutes 36 seconds – the fastest goal by Man Utd in the FA Cup since Ryan Giggs against Fulham on 26 January 2013 (02:04).
- Lukaku has scored 20+ goals in all competitions in each of his last four seasons at club level.
- Juan Mata has provided 28 assists for Man Utd since his debut, more than any other player at the club.
- Alexis Sanchez has been directly involved in 16 goals in 16 appearances in the FA Cup (eight goals and eight assists).
- The Red Devils scored with both of their shots on target in the match.
- Huddersfield have won only one of their last 19 FA Cup matches against sides in the top flight (D4 L14).
Huddersfield resume their bid for Premier League survival when they travel to bottom club West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, 24 February (15:00 GMT).
Manchester United, meanwhile, are in the Champions League action as they travel to Sevilla for their last-16 first-leg match on Wednesday, 21 February (19:45 GMT).