Two late strikes from Jesse Lingard and substitute Romelu Lukaku ensured the Reds progressed to the Emirates FA Cup fourth round with a thoroughly deserving 2-0 win over a stubborn Derby County under the bright Friday night lights of Old Trafford.
It had looked as though Jose Mourinho’s men were set for a replay after striking the post three times and former Liverpool goalkeeper Scott Carson frustrating the Reds with a number of top class saves, but the man of the moment Lingard finally broke the Rams’ resolve six minutes from time with a cracking 20-yard strike, before Lukaku secured the safe passage to round four with a late second goal on the counter attack.
Mourinho received a double Belgian boost as Lukaku returned to the matchday squad having sat out the win against his former club Everton with a head injury, whilst Marouane Fellaini did likewise after having failed to feature since the win over Brighton here back in November. Both took their places on the Reds’ substitutes bench. For the first time since United’s opening home league game of 2016/17 against Southampton, it was Friday night football under the lights at Old Trafford and it was a great spectacle.
The Reds started equally as brightly, with Pogba continuing his impressive form which had previously helped his side defeat Everton on New Year’s Day. The Frenchman crossed for another in-form player, Lingard, to fire over, before then shooting inches too high himself after positive build-up play.
Chris Smalling, who returned to United’s defence after picking up a knock against Leicester, made some crucial early interceptions as Gary Rowett’s Derby looked to play on the counter attack at every opportunity. Reds academy graduate Tom Lawrence often provided the Rams’ impetus, looking to impress on his Manchester homecoming.
Marcus Rashford should have put United ahead 18 minutes in after clever footwork took him away from two Derby defenders, but the youngster blasted just over from 15 yards. Juan Mata had a 20-yard free-kick tipped away by Carson, before Sergio Romero did likewise at the other end as Marcus Olsson’s header looked destined to loop in.
If Rashford’s earlier attempt was a good goalscoring chance, then his next effort was an even bigger one. A pinpoint Henrikh Mkhitaryan cross was met with a deft header at the back post by United’s number 19, but he could only strike the post when he should, in truth, have opened the scoring.
Pogba then replicated what Mata had done moments earlier with what looked like an inch-perfect free-kick, but again Carson was equal to it, diving to his right to acrobatically push the ball over the crossbar and the sides went into the break on level terms at 0-0.
Former Tottenham midfielder Tom Huddlestone had an early second-half effort which deflected off Luke Shaw and flew inches over, before Mata shot straight at Carson and Pogba fired inches wide at the other end. Lawrence tried his luck from 30 yards which Romero saved down low, whilst Pogba again struck an effort at Carson as both sides were being restricted to long-range attempts.
United continued to probe and Pogba again shot inches wide before Carson and then the post denied Rashford for the second time. Lukaku and Anthony Martial, who had replaced Mkhitaryan and Mata respectively, combined as the latter crossed for the Belgian who headed against the post, but the linesman had his flag raised anyway.
Lingard was the next to be denied by Carson who was fastly becoming the Rams’ hero, before Pogba fired the rebound wide. But the young man from Warrington who is in the form of his life was not to be denied this time as substitute Lukaku fed Lingard who unleashed a fierce effort into the top corner from 25 yards for his 11th strike of the season and his eighth goal in his last 10 appearances.
Lukaku then put the game to bed in the final minute of regular time on the counter attack, as he first brought the ball down on the halfway line, played a one-two with Martial, before slotting through the legs of Carson.
United’s road to Wembley will be made clearer when the draw for the fourth round takes place on Monday.
United: Romero; Lindelof, Smalling, Blind, Shaw; Herrera, Pogba (c), Mata (Martial 67), Lingard, Mkhitaryan (Lukaku 45); Rashford (Fellaini 79).
Subs not used: Pereira, Darmian, Rojo, McTominay.
Derby: Carson, Wisdom, Pearce, Keogh (c), Olsson; Weimann, Thorne, Huddlestone, Russell (Hanson 78), Lawrence, (Bennett 81); Winnall (Vydra 67).
Subs not used: Mitchell, Baird, Martin, Nugent.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR UNITED?
The Reds now have a well-earned break before we are back at Old Trafford to face Stoke City. The game is scheduled for Monday 15 January in the Premier League with kick-off at 20:00 GMT but if Stoke are taken to a replay in the FA Cup by Coventry City, the match will move to Saturday 13 January at 12:30 GMT.
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