Wednesday 19 December 2018

United make light of Pogba's absence to ease into last eight

Huddersfield Town 0 Manchester United 2

Manchester United defender Luke Shaw rises above Huddersfield Town’s Collin Quaner in his side’s 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round victory at John Smith’s Stadium yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Manchester United defender Luke Shaw rises above Huddersfield Town’s Collin Quaner in his side’s 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round victory at John Smith’s Stadium yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Paul Wilson

Paul Pogba missed this game through illness, leaving Manchester United to secure an FA Cup quarter-final clash at home to Brighton without him. Thanks to Romelu Lukaku's 20th and 21st goals of the season they managed it comfortably enough, the striker showing the value of possessing an accomplished goalscorer when chances are few and far between.

Huddersfield could have done with a similarly potent spearhead, since for all their attacking intent they came up short in front of goal. With the benefit of an early lead United could afford to be economical, letting their opponents have most of the ball then hitting them effectively on the counter. The visitors were not at their swaggering best, yet Huddersfield ended up grateful to a VAR call at the end of the first half for helping keep the scoreline respectable.

Manchester United's Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku shoots to score the opening goal. Photo: Getty Images
Manchester United's Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku shoots to score the opening goal. Photo: Getty Images

This was a pulsating FA Cup tie, with enough noise to satisfy even José Mourinho. United supporters had the away end to themselves, and as is often the case, created more volume in the first 20 minutes than is generally heard in an afternoon at Old Trafford.

Eddie Howe commented last week that the atmosphere generated by the Huddersfield crowd had unsettled his players and contributed to Bournemouth's defeat, and if anything the home backing here was even more impressive, particularly as the Terriers were behind inside three minutes.

Lukaku was merely testing the strength of the home defence as he played a one-two with Juan Mata on United's first attack, but the quality of the return pass was so inviting he found it a simple matter to round Christopher Schindler and slot home past an exposed Jonas Lössl.

Huddersfield simply shrugged and carried on, taking the game to United and setting up a few decent chances to keep the crowd enthused. Tom Ince was first to go close, before Chris Smalling got away with a suggestion of handball in the area, a potential penalty reviewed and rejected by the VAR team. Rajiv van La Parra saw a header held by Sergio Romero from a Danny Williams cross, then from the most teasing of Florent Hadergjonaj crosses behind a static United defence Ince was inches away from applying a finishing touch in front of goal.

Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United gives his team instructions. Photo: Getty Images
Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United gives his team instructions. Photo: Getty Images

As half-time approached Huddersfield had enjoyed almost two-thirds of possession and shown the greater willingness to attack, without quite managing to find a way through. Philip Billing was on target with a shot from distance that Romero held comfortably, though it was perhaps significant that the home side were already resorting to attempts from outside the area.

United had been sluggish and disjointed going forward, with Lukaku hardly in the game and Alexis Sánchez a peripheral presence, and when Mata neatly rounded Lössl to turn in an Ashley Young cross on the stroke of the interval it appeared Huddersfield had been hit with a sucker punch they barely deserved. Fortunately for them the VAR system took the same view, the goal eventually being disallowed for a borderline offside.

Fair enough if the correct decision was arrived at - though once again the process took much longer than advertised, with players originally returning to restart positions and having to stand around for a couple of minutes while Kevin Friend attended to his earpiece.

Replays suggested Mata might have been beyond last defender Schindler by a kneecap, which - while a relief for Huddersfield - was a pity from United's point of view, a dashing run by Young and the most composed of finishes from the Spaniard having come to naught.

Huddersfield had a chance to equalise right at the start of the second half when Ince's deflected free-kick came though to Van La Parra on the six-yard line, though the ball was at an awkward height and the winger's attempted volley was not a moment he will want to remember. That, however, and another free-kick from Billing that resulted in a corner, was as good as it got for the Terriers.

Breaking quickly from the second defensive situation, Lukaku found Sánchez on the halfway line and continued his run in anticipation of a return. When it came it was excellent, giving the striker the run on covering defender Williams, as Huddersfield paid the price for sending too many of their backline forward. Lukaku had the pace and strength to hold off Williams's challenge, and the poise to slip a shot past Lössl in front of the travelling support.

The away end was the only one still singing at the close, to such an extent that the normal repertoire was exhausted and ancient hymns to Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes were reprised. It was quite a performance, though one suspects Mourinho will not be completely satisfied until it is repeated at Old Trafford.

Observer

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