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Maguire finds extra response to send United into last four

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There is a place in the FA Cup semi-finals for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United, although this was a victory that was stripped of much of the usual elements that make great cup runs and that was only in part because of the empty stadium of the Covid era.

It took Harry Maguire's goal in the final moments of extra time to win this tie, against a Norwich City side who had gone down to 10 men two minutes before the regulation 90 were up at a time when they might have entertained ambitions of winning themselves. This was a version of United, but largely the one that Solskjaer is trying to forget, a mostly passive attacking force who struggled to do the simple things and relied largely on the mistakes of their opposition.

The United manager changed his side significantly from the victory over Sheffield United, and then as things went awry here he had little option but to change it back. The first half was a black hole into which meaningful football disappeared with no goal chances and the nagging feeling for those in the stadium that perhaps this was not a game in the usual sense at all.

Then after Odion Ighalo scored for United early in the second half gradually Norwich recognised that there was nothing much to fear after all. There were some marvellous performances from Daniel Farke's team, even after the red card for Timm Klose had seen them pushed back to try to contain United.

Before then Todd Cantwell had scored a fine equaliser and after that there was a courageous stand from the likes of Ben Godfrey and the evergreen Tim Krul in goal. They could not quite keep United at bay to the very end when exhaustion took over and a loose ball in the box not properly dealt with by Godfrey was seized upon by Maguire to slide in and force it over the line.

Solskjaer might console himself that these are the kind of performances that can emerge from lockdown, although it is clear that United will not be able to afford many more. Not an attempt on target of any kind in the first half. It would have been hard to watch if, indeed, anybody had been there to watch it.

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Manchester United's Odion Ighalo in action with Norwich City's Ben Godfrey. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Pool via Reuters

REUTERS

Manchester United's Odion Ighalo in action with Norwich City's Ben Godfrey. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Pool via Reuters

Solskjaer made eight changes to the team that had triumphed over Sheffield United and it showed. They were nothing if not predictable save for one pass from Bruno Fernandes that was pushed through the heart of the Norwich midfield for the run of Odion Ighalo.

Fernandes was one of three, along with Maguire and Luke Shaw, whom Solskjaer felt he could not do without. Yet in the hesitancy of the recalled Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard there was a cause for concern for the United manager, whose side did not ever get close to overwhelming Norwich in the early stages.

For a side who have won just twice at home in normal time since the turn of the year, the defeats that have accumulated over the season do not seem to have diminished Norwich's confidence. They continue to try to play out from the back with an extra man in midfield for greater security. That does mean that Teemu Pukki often finds himself isolated on the rare occasions that he does have the ball.

It was a rare forage forward from Shaw that finally saw United score, with what was their first attempt on Krul's goal. The full-back's relatively harmless cross was made much more dangerous by the confusion in the Norwich area and it seemed that it was Emi Buendia who got the touch that turned it back towards Ighalo.

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Norwich City's Adam Idah in action with Manchester United's Brandon Williams. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Pool via Reuters

REUTERS

Norwich City's Adam Idah in action with Manchester United's Brandon Williams. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Pool via Reuters

Onside and from close range he steered it past Krul for his fifth goal in four starts. That might have been it for Norwich. The triple substitution from Solskjaer shortly afterwards, introducing Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, suggested that the United manager felt his side could do with some greater purpose.

With 20 minutes left it was suddenly Norwich who had the greater energy and purpose as United flagged badly. Hard to say exactly who was at fault for Cantwell's equaliser but it never really looked dangerous until the young midfielder drew back his right foot and hit a low shot that Sergio Romero might have done better with. They had moved the ball easily from the left wing to the centre via the substitute Onel Hernandez and then on to Buendia before he found Cantwell.

There was space and precious little urgency to close it down from the United midfield, who now found themselves on the back foot in a cup tie that at last felt a little bit more significant. Solskjaer responded with another reconfiguration, bringing on Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. From what you could hear of the United manager on the touchline he had done so to try to regain control of the midfield. Fernandes was pushed up closer to Ighalo in attack.

It was for a foul on Ighalo that Klose was dismissed, the kind of decision for which there can be little argument. A flick from Fernandes put the striker in on goal and the Norwich defender realised the danger too late, wrapping his arms around Ighalo and dragging him back. A pity for the balance of a game that had only just started to look interesting.

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Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Pool via Reuters

REUTERS

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Catherine Ivill/Pool via Reuters

Krul was outstanding in extra-time and his saves from Rashford and Maguire kept Norwich on course for penalties until the late intervention of Maguire. To have gone to penalties given Krul's form, and his record in shoot-outs would have been dangerous indeed for Solskjaer's side.

Telegraph

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Manchester United's Harry Maguire (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Catherine Ivill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

PA

Manchester United's Harry Maguire (centre) celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Catherine Ivill/NMC Pool/PA Wire

Telegraph.co.uk




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