Ander Herrera's goal consigns Spurs to an eighth straight FA Cup semi-final defeat as Man United win from behind
For a man who says that winning the FA Cup would not change the way in which Tottenham Hotspur saw itself as a club, Mauricio Pochettino looked every more despondent as this FA Cup semi-final started to slip away from his team, and the last prospect of a trophy this season duly expired.
There is still fourth place in the Premier League to play for as far as Spurs are concerned, with Chelsea just five points behind, although Champions League football is something they have come to take for granted under their Argentine coach. Should they hold on this will be the third consecutive season in which they make the top four and yet expectations exceed that now, as the absence of a major honour becomes a deficit they simply cannot ignore.
On the big day, Spurs fell short once again, playing a semi-final at what is their current home ground against a Manchester United side with an indifferent run of form of late who, nevertheless seem capable of lifting themselves for the major occasions. In that respect they are the image of their manager, unyielding and tenacious, and if Spurs also reflect their man in charge then what does that say about Pochettino?
He has, of course, spent nothing like the money that Jose Mourinho has been allowed to lavish on his United squad, and often with mixed results. Yet Mourinho is one win away from his 21st major career trophy now with the FA Cup final on May 19, and, at 46, Pochettino, still one of the game’s most sought-after coaches is still yet to win a single one. Pochettino is a fine coach, and a man whose teams consistently punch above their weight, but he is still yet to close the deal when it comes to the cups.
Watching in the stands, Sir Alex Ferguson, a great admirer of Pochettino, will have recognised the frustration of the younger of the two managers at a Spurs team who took the lead through Dele Alli and then failed to build upon it. They started so much stronger than United but one always suspected that Mourinho’s players would force their way back into it once they had weathered the storm - and so it proved.
They equalised with an Alexis Sanchez goal made by the hitherto lacklustre Paul Pogba and then in the second half they went direct through Spurs again for the unlikely match-winner Ander Herrera to finish the move. This is United, a team that can change from one half to the next, from one game to another. They were never truly in control and Christian Eriksen was the man of the match when it came to technique and vision, but United had the warriors and the warriors prevailed.
They included Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, reunited in defence, as well as Romelu Lukaku who charged around after lost causes all day. Like all Mourinho sides, United are a difficult team to claw a lead off and once Spurs had fallen behind there was a grim inevitability for Pochettino’s team.
A brute of a first half in which Spurs did their very best to blow United away in the first stage of it and very nearly had two goals to show for their efforts while Mourinho’s team dug their heels and did their best to resist. No question which team started the better with Spurs in control of the midfield and Mourinho demanding more of his side until eventually they responded.
Kane looked in the groove in the early stages with his back to goal and putting himself about. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were the heart of the United defence and they found it hard with Spurs’ midfield squeezing up and getting Eriksen on the ball in the pockets of space where he does the most damage. It was his shot from a Kane lay-off on 17 minutes and the Englishman curved a fine ball with the outside of his boot to Heung-min Son on the right.
On the touchline Mourinho was raging against the lack of urgency in his team and the pressure had told early, after just ten minutes, when Davinson Sanchez went for the long pass down the right and Eriksen carried the ball clear of Pogba. The United man barely got out of second gear and Eriksen had time to spot Alli’s run at the back post where he slid in for the first goal.
Spurs seemed to sense that Pogaba was off the pace and although eventually he came into the game there were some bad moments before then. Mousa Dembele chopped back in midfield to get away from his opponent and earlier Kieran Trippier had threaded the ball through the legs of the Frenchman. Perhaps it was with that earlier incident in mind that Pogba singled out Dembele when the Spurs man delayed his pass on the right side on 24 minutes.
It is not often that this silky Belgian footballer is caught in possession but this was one of those moments, waiting too long to release and was put on his backside by Pogba’s challenge. The United man struck a nice ball onto the head of Alexis Sanchez in the box who wrong-footed goalkeeper Michel Vorm with his header.
United had looked like they could capsize around 14 minutes when Spurs’ pressure became intense but they had stayed in the game and after that equaliser it was a much more even contest. Antonio Valencia was fortunate that the referee Anthony Taylor judged his two-footed challenge on Alli only worthy of a booking, and the game itself certainly had that kind of edge to it.
In the final stages of the half Eric Dier had a shot deflected that hit De Gea’s right post but by then United were right back in the game. They had allowed Dembele and Dier to have the ball and play on the counterattack but when they did break, United looked sharp.
The winner came just after the hour when Lukaku managed to knock-on a long ball and almost got to the cut –back that Sanchez played into the area. Instead this was one of those occasions when United were glad of a loose touch from the Belgian and the ball fell nicely to Herrera who was screened well by Jesse Lingard to beat Vorm with the shot.
As the game disintegrated in the late stages, and Eriksen probed, the substitute Marcus Rashford almost got a goal on the breakaway but more importantly for them, United were solid to the end.