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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Wembley Stadium

Man United getting out of jail destroys one of the greatest FA Cup stories nearly told

FA Cup semi-final

Coventry City 3-3 Manchester United (2-4 pens)

Well of course they won. Man United were not about to pass up the chance to lose to Man City in successive FA Cup finals were they?

But what a dreadful, deflating killer for the romantics.

Coventry, 3-0 down and looking like they were about to disappear without a murmur, mounted a sensational fightback to take the game to extra time - Haji Wright's cool penalty added to two goals in eight minutes from Ellis Simms and Callum O'Hare.

United, who had led 2-0 at the break with goals from Scott McTominay and Harry Maguire and added a third through Bruno Fernandes, had been coasting, now they were suddenly all over the place.

Both teams hit the bar in extra-time. In the end it was penalties to the rescue for United - but only after VAR cruelly called out an offside to deny City a last minute winner for Victor Thorp.

Coventry City carrying the flag for the Championship and the EFL as fervent anti- replay abolitionists did themselves and the lower leagues so proud.

Here we take a look at some of the talking points from an incredible semi-final 2:

Semi-finals seldom produce romantic outcomes and stats pointed only one way

The previous 15 matches at the stadium between top flight teams and ones from a lower league had all gone the same way and this was not about to buck the trend. The last time there was a shock of that kind was way back in the 1991 League Cup final when Sheffield Wednesday triumphed at the expense of....Man United.

There were other stats giving the game away about the likely outcome - the fact United had only lost two of their previous 52 ties against lower league opposition. No wonder bookmakers were quoting 6/1 against the Sky Blues pulling off the shock of the season, while United were 4/9 on to get the job done in 90 minutes.

The FA Cup's most romantic tales are not usually born in Wembley semi-finals. It is usually the moment the biggest names step up to wrestle control of the competition into elite hands once and for all. Maidstone's great adventure was all about the early rounds. Coventry's thrilling win over Wolves in the quarter-finals was destined to become a footnote.

City came so close to breaking that familiar narrative, but the footballing gods on high seem determined to protect the giants from such falls from grace.

FA Cup shrugs off notion it struggles for attention

With Crystal Palace going goal crazy in a London derby at Selhurst Park and title-chasing Liverpool in action against Fulham at Craven Cottage, it was a day when it felt the real action was taking place elsewhere at the outset.

The sense of occasion was definitely there at kick-off, with Coventry fans arriving in numbers ahead of the later-arriving United fans, who have seen all this before. They waved their sky blue flags and sang their hearts out before kick-off. But by the start of the second half, the energy had started to dissipate.

Hundreds of empty seats in the east end, home of United fans, were unoccupied at the resumption as half-time refreshment runs were extended. There was little sense of jeopardy. No real question mark over the likely outcome.

Then, out of nowhere, we were watching an entirely different game. It was barely believable. United had not even been made to sweat over their deployment of Casemiro as a makeshift defender. Then City scored, belief rose and United looked all at sea. They were so lucky to survive.

Penalties are United's saviour yet again - and Coventry's dark Achilles heel

When Bradley Collins saved United's first penalty from Casemiro, they had hopes of getting over the line. But as is very often the case in these affairs, the team blinking first goes on to reverse the early setback.

Coventry had one saved (O'Hare) and Ben Sheaf blazed over the bar and that was that. Coventry lost the toss for choice of ends. They lost the toss for the chance to take the first kick. That little bit of luck they needed was just out of reach.

And so they suffered, just as they did in last season's Championship play-off defeat to Luton on pens. And United triumphed. Just as they did in last year's semi-final against Brighton - thanks to a shoot out.

Antony has no class

There were shades of the Argentina win on penalties against Holland in the World Cup when players mocked their vanquished opponents. It's very much a South American thing. But if United did somehow find a way to win, it was nothing to do with him.

He came off the bench in place of the far better Alejandro Garnacho and did nothing of note, apart from bait the beaten Coventry players as he ran off to celebrate.

Erik ten Hag was being taunted by Coventry fans about being 'sacked in the morning' and he did not even have Garnacho on the pitch to bail him out as he had been withdrawn for the dismal Antony.

Perhaps United's get-out-jail card confirmed that ten Hag may yet have a lucky streak in him to preserve his fragile position as boss. He made need even more of it in the final against his team's city rivals.


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