A late goal from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Mancunian messiah of sorts, ensured that the FA Cup crown was still something Manchester United were battling to retain. As for the hosts, it was definitely a job well done to put up a solid performance against a side that is vying for European spots in the current scheme of things. Danny Graham and Marvin Emnes were clearly the most impressive on the pitch for the hosts while Marcus Rashford capitalized on an error from Jason Lowe to equalize. The Cup dream and the honour of retaining the crown now moves into another week for Mourinho and his band of merry men.
Over the years, Manchester United have had a few interesting results at Ewood Park. There was also something interesting about the team selection from both sides. Wayne Rooney’s illness had gotten the better of him as it had against Saint Etienne and he was not aboard the bus that traveled to Ewood Park. Jose Mourinho’s reinforcements on the day included the likes of Ibrahimovic and Pogba while Ashley Young was the beneficiary of a rare start. However, the eyes were fixed on the home bench as a Mancunian connection in the form of Wes Brown’s presence in somewhat of a dual coaching role.
The predicament as far as hosts Blackburn Rovers could not be as well-documented as it was ahead of the start of the match. A 2-1 away defeat at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday on Valentine’s Day saw Owen Coyle’s men languishing at 23rd place on the Championship table. Three points away from safety and Coyle barely holding onto his managerial job, a win against the Red Devils was something obligatory.
One would have not guessed the turmoil surrounding the Rovers as they began in earnest. The start was that of a club going through an FA Cup adventure with little or no emphasis on the ongoing survival scrap in the Championship. Ewood Park was also packed to the rafters. In spite of United getting into their obligatory passing game, the Rovers looked to be the ones more dangerous in attack. While Mourinho’s side was riddled with internationals, Marvin Emnes and Danny Graham were the ones making the defensive pairing of Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo wilt under wave after wave of attack.
Emnes, in fact, had already begun creating problems for the makeshift back four of United when he struck one target, forcing a parry from the gloves of Sergio Romero. As the likes of Jason Lowe and Danny Guthrie got themselves into the game, the problems had been compounded for Manchester United. It took 15 minutes for Danny Graham to get the ball past Romero into the net, but the essence of that goal was the pressure put on the defense by Marvin Emnes.
A Manchester United response was more than certain. The response came in the next 10 minutes when Marcus Rashford slotted home a delicious through ball from Henrikh Mkhitarayan. The 28-year old Armenian exhibited amazing vision to pick out Rashford as the latter then went ahead and capitalized on an error from Jason Steele in front of goal.
The waves of attacks continued from United, so much so that there was literally a passing battle going on outside the penalty box in front of Lowe and Williams. Even Marvin Emnes and Danny Graham had made their way back into defense with the counter-attack perhaps one of the few options on the cards. However, the Rovers still seemed to be the ones with the attacking acumen as their direct ploy was seemingly working. Romero, thus, was forced into a few saves. This continued well into the second half as well before Mourinho had no choice but to bring on his insurance policy.
Pogba and Ibrahimovic were thrown on in place of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, something that would pay off in the next few minutes. With Pogba taking up a heavily advanced position, the defensive unit of the hosts began to crack. This crack was proven when Zlatan had a way in on goal with 15 minutes to play, something that the 35-year old calmly slotted into the back of the net. This not only gave the defending champions a much-needed lead but also a win with Mourinho’s side not really wanting to play a replay the following week.
The clock ticked away with the Rovers playing at perhaps their attacking best. This was the best possible piece of football one had seen from the hosts this season. And, the crowd was also behind them. Anthony Stokes, the substitute found the back of the net after a howler from Sergio Romero only for the linesman to wave the call as offside, something that was clear as daylight.
Juan Mata was thrown on for the last couple of minutes as the Red Devils went ahead and cemented their place in the final eight. A trip to Chelsea now stands in Mourinho’s way if he wants to become the first United manager to retain the FA Cup.