Nemanja Matic’s first Old Trafford goal secured Manchester United’s passage through to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, with a 2-0 victory over Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday night. Manager Jose Mourinho would have been looking for an immediate response from his players following Tuesday night’s shock Champions League elimination at the hands of Sevilla but whilst the Portuguese will be pleased with the result, he witnessed another uninspiring Reds performance.
Romelu Lukaku bagged his 25th goal of the season shortly before the half-time interval, before Matic put the game beyond doubt in the closing minutes, just as anxiety had taken over the Old Trafford faithful. Mourinho made five changes to the starting XI that got knocked out of Europe in midweek, with the most notable being Alexis Sanchez’s demotion to the bench. Sitting alongside the Chilean was midfielder Paul Pogba, who put in a disappointing 30-minute cameo against Sevilla, as Mourinho opted for Scott McTominay and Juan Mata to start alongside Matic in the middle of the park. England international duo Marcus Rashford and Ashley Young also dropped to the bench, with Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw taking their places in the starting line-up. In goal, Sergio Romero came in for David de Gea to make his ninth appearance of the campaign.
There was a subdued feeling around a snowy Old Trafford at kick-off and United did not do much to liven up the place. The Reds carried on from where they left off against Sevilla, playing with no real urgency or tempo and struggled to open up a Brighton side sitting in 12th place in the Premier League table. There were, however, brief moments of attacking play to momentarily get the fans off their feet. First, some brilliant one-touch football between Mata and Martial down United’s left-hand side bamboozled the Seagulls’ backline, only for the Spaniard’s shot to be blocked for a corner.2
Then, a scramble in the six-yard box saw the ball break to Chris Smalling but the central defender saw his deflected shot come off the post. Shortly after, the hosts took the lead. The rampaging Luke Shaw ran at the Brighton defence before setting the ball back for the nearby Matic, whose perfectly weighted first-time cross picked out Lukaku, who headed the ball past Tim Krul for his 25th United strike. Shaw’s involvement in the opening goal was not enough to please Mourinho, who replaced the 22-year-old at half-time with veteran Ashley Young.
The second 45 minutes saw Brighton grow in confidence and Chris Hughton’s men began to take the game to United. Minutes after the interval, Pascal Gross had a sighter from outside the box, as his low effort curled past the wrong side of the post and out for a goal-kick. Romero pulled off a brilliant save soon after, as the Argentina international tipped Jurgen Locadia’s fierce strike away for a corner. The £14 million man had another opportunity midway through the second half, peeling away from his marker only for his header to loop behind Romero’s goal. As the clock ticked away with Brighton pushing for an equalising goal, United doubled their lead and booked their place in the semi-finals.
Ashley Young’s fantastic delivery from a free-kick was met by Matic, who steered the ball past Krul to celebrate his first United goal at Old Trafford. Whilst this was far from the performance that Mourinho would have demanded following Tuesday night’s events, the Portuguese boss will be pleased to still be on course to pick up some much-needed silverware.