United Into Last Eight As Rochdale Earn Wembley Trip

Manchester United came away with a 2-0 win against Huddersfield at the John Smith’s Stadium, booking their place in the quarter-finals in the process. A Romelu Lukaku brace was enough to win the game, even though the Terriers were arguably the better side, especially in the first half. Those goals meant that Lukaku has now scored 21 goals this season; as many as Alexandre Lacazette and Alvaro Morata have combined. While it did not ultimately affect the result, VAR was the centre of controversy again, as Juan Mata’s goal on the stroke of half-time was ruled out for offside, having initially been given. The images shown to the VAR seemed amateurish, as the lines on the screen looked like they had been drawn by a school-going child. When they were corrected, Mata seemed only marginally offside; his knee looked to be ahead of the last defender. While the correct call was made, this brings into question the scope of VAR’s mandate, as it was supposed to be used only for “clear and obvious errors”, which this was definitely not.

Chelsea had kicked off the weekend in some style, steamrolling Hull City 4-0 at Stamford Bridge. All of the goals came in the first half, as Willian scored an early goal to set the Blues on their way. Pedro scored before the half hour mark, before another Willian goal and Olivier Giroud’s first goal for Chelsea put the game beyond sight of Hull. They did manage to win a penalty in the second half, although David Meyler’s effort was saved by Willy Caballero, to sum up a miserable night for the visitors. Leicester City booked their place in the quarter-finals as well, with Jamie Vardy scoring the only goal of the game against Sheffield United.

Brighton made it to the quarter-final for the first time since 1986, with a 3-1 win over Coventry. Jurgen Locadia got proceedings started on his debut with a brilliant finish, and he could arguably have finished the first half with a hat trick, hitting the post early on, while only a last-ditch block prevented him from converting a tap-in. Connor Goldson and Leonardo Ulloa’s strikes sealed the tie for the Seagulls, with Jason Clarke-Harris’ late goal only a consolation, as Brighton now face Manchester United at Old Trafford, with a Wembley semi-final appearance at stake. West Brom’s week went from bad to worse, as Alan Pardew’s side were dumped out courtesy of a 2-1 loss to Southampton. Earlier in the week, four senior players were brought in by police in Barcelona for questioning after they broke curfew during a “team-bonding” trip, and took the taxi they were travelling in for a little spin, without the owner’s permission. Of the players in question, Jonny Evans and Gareth Barry started the game, although Evans was stripped of the captaincy, as Pardew gave them a chance to “remedy the situation”. It did not work, as Wesley Hoedt and Dusan Tadic had the Saints two goals up before an hour had passed. Salomon Rondon gave the Baggies some hope with a superb left-footed volley minutes later, but it would prove to be too little too late. Pardew’s position is surely under threat now, with the chief executive and chairman having been fired during the week as well.

Sheffield Wednesday and Swansea played out a 0-0 draw at Hillsborough on Carlos Carvalhal’s return to the club he managed for more than two years, forcing a replay. There will be another replay in the fifth round, as Tottenham drew 2-2 with Rochdale, in a result that is a boon for the League Two side. Rochdale had taken a shock lead through captain Ian Henderson on the stroke of half-time, and it was a well-deserved one, as the relaid pitch at Spotland helped the home team’s passing game along with that of Spurs; they had created a number of chances to take the lead before the eventual goal. Spurs equalised  on the hour mark through Lucas Moura’s first goal, and the cavalry was soon summoned in the form of Erik Lamela, Dele Alli and Harry Kane, as Mauricio Pochettino clearly did not want a replay. Those wishes looked to have been realised, as Kane converted an 88th minute penalty to break Rochdale hearts. However, journeyman striker Steven Davies had other ideas, as his smart finish deep into stoppage time gave Rochdale another chance, and more importantly, a Wembley pay-day that could be massive for a club of their size. Finally, Manchester City take on Wigan in the final tie of the round on Monday night.

United were not their usual fluid best, but managed to eke out the win, something which they have failed to do in recent games. Their reward was a home tie against Brighton, and Jose Mourinho’s side should, on the balance of form, make it to Wembley for a semi-final appearance.