Manchester United are going to Wembley, but only after Harry Maguire’s header late into extra time rescued a below-par performance and beat 10-man Norwich City. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hopes of a trophy had appeared in jeopardy when Todd Cantwell cancelled out Odion Ighalo’s opening goal to force the tie beyond 90 minutes, only for this quarter-final tie to swing on a red card.
Timm Klose’s sending-off for pulling down Ighalo – two minutes from the end of normal time – left Daniel Farke and his Norwich players hoping for penalties and reliant on more heroics from Tim Krul. The Dutch goalkeeper denied United on several occasions during the final half hour but, just as a shoot-out appeared likely, Maguire scrambled over the line to book a place in next month’s semi-finals.
While United’s unbeaten run stretches to 14 games, elimination leaves Norwich to focus on a Premier League campaign which is beginning to look unsalvageable. The FA Cup had offered some welcome relief from a gruelling return to the top flight but, bottom of the table and six points adrift of safety, it would appear as though they have very little left to look forward to for the remainder of the season.
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The trio of Cantwell, Teemu Pukki and Emi Buendia returned for Norwich’s first FA Cup quarter-final in 28 years after Farke’s curious decision to leave all three out of the damaging defeat to Everton. Solskjaer, meanwhile, made only one change from the line-up which knocked out Derby County back in March. As a result, six United players were making their first start in more than three months and that lack of match sharpness showed.
Norwich edged a first half that ended without either side registering a shot on target. Lukas Rupp’s attempt, two minutes before the break, would have tested Sergio Romero in United’s goal if not for a crucial block by Maguire. Other than that, Farke’s side made little of the counter-attacking opportunities which came their way after successfully shutting down United’s one-dimensional forward play. If Pukki – still waiting for a goal from open play since his last in mid-December – had pace, they may have gone into the interval ahead.
There was a clear shift in tempo once play resumed and United profited, finding a breakthrough six minutes into the second half. Ighalo is not the most elegant of strikers but once more demonstrated the knack of applying difficult finishes which is earning him cult status at Old Trafford. When Luke Shaw’s cross hit Juan Mata and hung in the air above the six-yard box, the Nigerian kept his eye on the ball, adjusted his body shape and stretched out his right boot out to turn past Krul.
United’s move for Ighalo late on the final day of the January window was ridiculed in some quarters – perhaps more for the club’s slapdash methods of recruiting a backup striker, than anything else – but he has scored every time he has been trusted to start by Solskjaer. His tally of five goals is more than either Radamel Falcao or Angel di Maria managed during their ill-fated spells at Old Trafford.
But although ahead, United had not taken the lead through any concerted spell of pressure and it was not particularly surprising that they failed to build on their advantage. The warning signs were there for Solskjaer when Ben Godfrey accidentally cleared his own team-mate Alexander Tettey’s header away from Romero’s goal. Five minutes later, Cantwell drilled a low shot from outside the area that beat the United goalkeeper and nestled in the bottom right-hand corner.
It was the first goal conceded by United in this season’s FA Cup and one that Maguire evidently felt Romero could have stopped. The United captain held his arms out in exasperation after he watched the ball swerve out of Romero’s reach but, in truth, it was nothing less than Norwich’s response to going behind had deserved. Farke’s side looked likeliest to progress to Wembley until Klose’s 88th-minute red card.
Klose could have little argument with referee Jon Moss’s decision, but he also had little choice but to drag Ighalo down after Bruno Fernandes’s cute turn threatened to send United’s scorer through on goal. Solskjaer had already sent for the cavalry by that stage, calling for Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood among others. Krul denied all three between the end of the 90 minutes and the start of extra time to keep Norwich alive and level.
A dominant United still struggled to cut through during the extra half hour. Even the introduction of Wednesday’s hat-trick hero Anthony Martial – the first time in English football that a manager has used six substitutes in a single game – made little difference. Maguire went close once from a corner with a header that sent Krul scrambling and the decisive goal was scrappier still. Pogba’s delicate ball into the penalty area bobbled around until Maguire eventually slid in through a mass of bodies to apply the telling touch and edge a lacklustre United over the line.