Manchester United 3-1 Fulham: Three red cards in FA Cup implosion as hosts reach semi-finals

Seeing red: Mitrovic  (REUTERS)
Seeing red: Mitrovic (REUTERS)

Manchester United reached the FA Cup semi-finals in surreal circumstances, coming from behind to knock out a Fulham side who had two players and manager Marco Silva sent off.

Fulham endured one of their worst days of the season last weekend in their 3-0 defeat to league leaders Arsenal. But against a United team missing a suspended Casemiro, they started brightly at Old Trafford. How they would fall in a second-half moment of madness.

Willian started so well, playing on the left but creeping into the middle of the pitch and connecting play for Fulham. They were much the better team in the first half, and a lot of that was down to the return of Joao Palhinha following his two-match suspension.

In Palhinha’s absence, they lost to Brentford and Arsenal. But he allowed midfield partner Harrison Reed — hampered by an early hamstring injury but eventually recovering — to bomb on. Fulham had energy and vitality and nearly had a goal when veteran centre-back Tim Ream found himself on the left flank and crossed into the corridor of uncertainty. It bypassed everyone. A glorious chance.

Antonee Robinson was woeful last weekend against Arsenal but crossed well for Aleksandar Mitrovic, who stayed in their air but headed over. Then Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno smothered from Marcus Rashford and then parried Marcel Sabitzer’s fizzing effort.

Fulham started the second half just as they had ended the first. Five minutes after the restart — by which time Willian had twice tested David De Gea — Silva’s side were ahead when Mitrovic stabbed home from a corner. It ended a drought of nine matches stretching back to January 3. It had the Fulham supporters who’d made the long trip to Old Trafford dreaming of a first FA Cup semi-final since 2002.

United were clinging on — perhaps a sign their remarkable number of matches this season had caught up with them. De Gea clawed away Mitrovic’s header for a miraculous save. It kept United in the cup tie. And then they were off, up the other end.

Antony countered, squared for Jadon Sancho — and Sancho rounded Leno and only had to stick it into the net. Willian blocked on the line, but was it with his hand or his thigh? It was hard to tell, but referee Chris Kavanagh consulted VAR and awarded a spot-kick.

Willian had to go, due to his proximity to the goal. Kavanagh duly sent him off. Then all hell broke loose. Mitrovic appeared to push Kavanagh, giving the official no choice but to send the hot-headed Serb off too. Suddenly Fulham were down to nine men.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Manager Silva’s own emotions appeared to get the better of him and his remonstrations earned him a red as well. Fulham had lost it; their lead, their composure and the match. Silva spent the rest of the match pacing up and down the tunnel, while the carcass of his team lost their lead and lost the match.

Bruno Fernandes stroked home the penalty to level at 1-1. Then Luke Shaw reached the byline and crossed for Marcel Sabitzer to back-heel deftly into the net for his first United goal. Two in two minutes, and with 13 minutes left to play it was already fair to conclude that Fulham were a beaten team.

It was a great shame for their fans that their grand day out ended in such disgraceful circumstances, and it got worse rather than better when substitute Fred tucked the ball to Fernandes, who arrowed into the corner deep into injury time.

Ten Hag’s side are the only team left in Europe’s top five leagues still on for a quadruple. One of Arsenal or Manchester City will, of course, ensure they don’t win all four competitions, but they could at least add the FA Cup and Europa League to the EFL Cup they won last month.

United plough on. Fulham plod him in ludicrous fashion. It was class that got them to this first FA Cup quarter-final since 2010. It was sheer stupidity that ensured they go no further.