Friday 15 December 2017

Anthony Martial finds perfect finish to keep United on Cup glory trail

Everton 1 Manchester Utd 2

Manchester United's Anthony Martial
Manchester United's Anthony Martial
Manchester United's Anthony Martial and Everton's Mohamed Besic in action during the FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters
Everton's Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea battle for the ball during the Emirates FA Cup, Semi-Final match at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Nick Potts/PA
Manchester United's Antonio Valencia and manager Louis van Gaal after the game against Everton. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Reuters
Everton's Ross Barkley (right) and Manchester United's Marouane Fellaini battle for the ball during the Emirates FA Cup, Semi-Final match at Wembley. Photo: Nick Potts/PA

Sam Wallace

The time of Alex Ferguson is over but at least the modern Manchester United can say they still know how to win a big game in Fergie-time.

Anthony Martial arrived as the right man in the right place at the right time to score the goal that takes Manchester United into their first FA Cup final in 11 years after they had allowed an Everton team that looked bereft of ideas back into a semi-final they once seemed destined to lose.

Booed off at half-time by their own supporters, somehow Roberto Martinez's team found a way back into the match and it looked destined to go to extra-time before Martial's intervention.

United should never have needed to win with a goal in injury time, but for all their struggles to see off Everton during 90 minutes there will have been something that made this victory even more satisfying for the fact that it was seized by their team right at the death.

Before the break, Everton were one more goal away from a capitulation and yet having conceded just one - Marouane Fellaini's - in the first half, they found a way back into the game after the break and might even have won it.

Having had their opposition by the throat, United could not find a way to put the game out of sight and, as it often has done in the post-Ferguson era, the match started to slip away from them.

They needed David de Gea to rescue them once when he saved Romelu Lukaku's penalty, and then finally Everton, a team transformed around the hour mark, got an equaliser when Chris Smalling put the ball in his own net.

Everton had played like a team coming to the end of a managerial era, with only two breakouts to the isolated Lukaku counting as attempts on United's goal and, although they went close, Martinez's team were fortunate to reach half-time just a single goal behind. This was an Everton side without direction or intensity and United really should have made more of their advantage.

United pass the ball a lot, it has been a hallmark of Louis van Gaal's reign, and they have never done so under less pressure as they did at Wembley. Reprising his midweek midfield role, Wayne Rooney played alongside Fellaini in the middle of a four-man midfield and he, as well as Michael Carrick, just behind as a defensive screen, had as much time as he needed to pick his pass.

Martinez's team were so deep that their greatest hope was that United would simply run out of room in behind them, a position they found themselves in time and again with the running of Marcus Rashford and Martial. On the left wing, Martial tortured Muhamed Besic, co-opted to play right-back in the absence of Seamus Coleman, and United used that channel time and again to get behind Everton.

Remarkably, however, the best early chance fell to Lukaku when he ran onto a long bouncing ball, brushed off Timothy Fosu-Mensah and took the ball around David de Gea. His mistake was a heavy touch that meant his body was not set properly for the shot which was struck down into the ground and bounced up. On the line to head the ball smartly away from danger was Rooney.

A bad touch would again let Lukaku down on 15 minutes when he was picked out by Tom Cleverley's ball over the top and that was about all the Belgian striker saw of goal. In midfield, Everton simply retreated with only James McCarthy attempting to shut the space down and put in a tackle. On Everton's right side, Aaron Lennon often dropped in alongside Besic to help him with Martial and the Englishman did nothing going forward in the first half.

Before United scored, they created a chance for Martial that he struck over from close range when Rooney and then Jesse Lingard combined to get the Frenchman in past Besic in the left channel. When eventually United scored they did so down that same side when Martial accelerated past Besic and cut the ball back for Fellaini to sweep it in from close range.

There is no love for Fellaini among the Everton support and he chose not to run towards them having scored, although it was hardly a surprise that it was him. The Belgian midfielder had been a ubiquitous presence in the first half, winning the ball, losing the ball, putting himself about and generally covering more ground than Cleverley and Darron Gibson managed.

Yet Everton made it to half-time trailing to just the single goal and it was hard to imagine that they would be quite so poor again, even with Besic left to plough his lonely furrow at right-back. There were no immediate changes from Martinez and although they came back into the game, it was United's carelessness that permitted them to do so.

So many chances to put Everton away and yet they passed them up, none better than on 54 minutes when Fosu-Mensah, then Rashford and finally Martial combined to open the space for Lingard behind a largely static Everton midfield. The young winger sliced his shot wide.

Two minutes later, Everton had the penalty, given when Ross Barkley, barely in the game until then, broke left in the penalty area and Fosu-Mensah came in hard and fast to take the ball. The referee, Anthony Taylor, gave himself plenty of thinking time to make the decision as both went down.

At first glance it seemed like the United full-back had got the ball but replays showed his right boot initially making contact with Barkley's right. De Gea against Lukaku for the penalty and although it was well struck down inside the right post, the goalkeeper got down early and strong, reaching out to push it wide. A good penalty but a great save, and De Gea really makes it look so easy.

This was Everton's best period and often John Stones would step up into midfield with Gibson dropping back to cover at centre-half, permitting the Englishman to pick out passes. Cleverley initiated the move for the equaliser, picking out the substitute Gerard Deulofeu on the right and his cross went on off the right foot of Chris Smalling, who had hitherto been excellent.

It needed a late challenge from Fellaini on Lukaku to save the day on 82 minutes before finally United scored the winner. On his backside, the substitute Ander Herrera managed to steer the ball through to Martial and he finished with that great confident flourish that spoke of better, more successful times for United.

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