Manchester United avenged the defeat at the John Smith’s Stadium earlier in the season to dump Huddersfield Town out of the Emirates FA Cup and progress to the quarter-final stage thanks to two clinical Romelu Lukaku goals on a night when VAR again took centre stage.
Lukaku put United in front after three minutes and Juan Mata thought he had doubled the lead on the stroke of half-time, but the video assistant referee (VAR) denied him. It was left to United’s no. 9 to put the game to bed 10 minutes into the second half following a blistering Reds counter-attack.
Boss Jose Mourinho made six changes following the defeat to Newcastle. Notably Sergio Romero started in goal and Michael Carrick came in for Paul Pogba who missed out through illness.
United arrived into this, our third meeting with Huddersfield in less than four months and made the perfect start, taking the lead early on through Lukaku. The Belgian picked the ball up 40 yards out, played a one-two with Mata and, after cutting onto his stronger foot, slipped the ball coolly into the near corner to silence the ardent home crowd and claim his 20th goal of the season.
At the other end, Philip Billing found Tom Ince inside the box, but he miscued his shot wide from a narrow angle, before Collin Quaner’s cross was close to looping over Romero. Rajiv Van La Parra headed at Romero, before Florent Hadergjonaj’s low right-wing cross was inches away from being converted by the sliding Ince.
The Terriers were enjoying most of the possession as Billing again tried his luck from distance, before United thought we had grabbed a killer second before the break. A surging run down the right from Ashley Young allowed the flying full-back to find Mata, who neatly rounded the keeper and tucked home. The Reds celebrated, only for referee Kevin Friend to call for a review via VAR, which was being utilised for the first time in United’s history. After a lengthy delay, Neil Swarbrick ruled Mata was in an offside position and the goal was disallowed to the surprise of all the stadium.
Seconds later, United were denied again as Nemanja Matic volleyed home Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick but, this time, the the assistant referee’s flag was raised for offside.
Ince fired in a 20 yard free-kick moments into the second half which lead to Van La Parra having a chance to volley the ball home, but he miskicked his effort before the impressive Chris Smalling made a crucial block on Steve Mounie.
Just as he did in the first half, Lukaku, found the back of the net with United’s first purposeful attack of the second period and it was trademark United. A frightening counter-attack, which was started in his own half by the United frontman, laying the ball off to Alexis Sanchez, was finished in clinical fashion as he latched on to Alexis’ return ball, stroking past Jonas Lossl. A couple of young Reds fans made their way onto the pitch to congratulate Alexis and co.
The Reds now oozed confidence and Mata and Alexis were combining beautifully in the centre of the field as both looked to feed Lukaku for his hat-trick, but couldn’t find that elusive final ball which would have put the icing on the cake. At the other end, Huddersfield bravely plugged away and substitute Abdelhamid Sabiri nearly pulled a goal back, but he headed over as the Reds defence, led by Smalling, stood firm.
This was the first of three matches in three different competitions for United which could ultimately help define our season. Tonight’s win under the lights meant smooth progression into the FA Cup quarter-final for the fourth year in a row and Mourinho’s men can now focus on European adventures in midweek.
Huddersfield: Lossl, Hadergjonaj (Smith 70) Zanka, Schindler (c), Kongolo (Malone 70); Williams, Billing, Ince; Quaner, Van La Parra (Sabiri 84), Mounie.
Subs not used: Coleman, Whitehead, Hogg, Depoitre. United: Romero; Young, Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw; Matic, Carrick (c), McTominay; Mata (Lingard 80), Alexis (Martial 75) Lukaku (Bailly 90+3).
Subs not used: Pereira, Darmian, Hamilton, Gomes.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UNITED?
The Reds now turn attentions to the UEFA Champions League as we travel to Spain to face Sevilla on Wednesday 21 February with kick off at 19:45 GMT at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.