Manchester United are back at Wembley as goals from Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic steered the Reds to an Emirates FA Cup semi-final spot next month.
Jose Mourinho had highlighted the star contribution of Lukaku and Matic in his memorable Friday press conference and the pair paid back there compliments with the goals that see United in London on the weekend of 21/22 April.
Old Trafford fans were looking for a quick response from the team following the huge disappointment of the Champions League exit to Sevilla last Tuesday. Mourinho had produced his own riposte as a result of the Euro KO with his impassioned speech to the media. Now it was the time for the team to give their answer.
There was a mini blizzard at the start of the game that left the surface with a light dusting of snow but it took the Reds a little bit of time to warm up in the Arctic conditions. But for there most part it was a case of United camping out in the Brighton half.
Early shots from top scorer Lukaku and Jesse Lingard failed to trouble Brighton goalkeeper Tim Krul. Anthony Martial was always threatening danger and a tight link up with Juan Mata after 29 minutes saw a series of one-twos force United through the Brighton defence but Mata’s shot was deflected wide. Chris Smalling almost had the breakthrough from the resulting corner as he stabbed a shot against the woodwork in a near-post scramble.
There wasn’t a lot of danger coming from Chris Hughton’s side but there was a warning after 32 minutes when captain Lewis Dunk powered a header that needed a pair of strong gloves from Sergio Romero to keep the effort out.
United’s build-up remained patient and measured and they got the reward after 37 minutes. Matic serviced Lukaku with a swinging long cross to the far post which the Belgian met with a header to beat Krul for his 25th goal in all competitions in his Reds debut campaign.
There was a quiet, discreet fist pump towards Mourinho from the striker and the manager responded in kind. It was Lukaku’s 10th goal in 14 matches in 2018 and just what United needed.
Brighton had been neat and tidy and looked like the plan was to contain the Reds and strike on the break. Lukaku left that blueprint in tatters and the Seagulls second-half tactics showed a bit more threat with Pascal Gross and Jergen Locadia threatening Romero’s goal early in the second 45.
Locadia’s second attempt after 57 minutes was the most dangerous of Brighton’s response as the Dutchman turned and fired a left foot shot that Romero sprang spectacularly to keep out.
United were finding it a struggle to add to Lukaku’s first-half goal and were unable to test Krul as Brighton continued to add to their goal attempts stats. Locadia was adding the most to that and hearts were in mouths when he was free at the far post but directed his header over the bar.
The Reds continued to find chances hard to come by to alleviate the growing anxiety of a potential equaliser and extra time, but finally as the temperatures dipped Matic relieved the stress with the second goal seven minutes from time.
Half-time substitute Ashley Young, who had replaced Luke Shaw, floated in a free-kick to the far post and Matic did what Lukaku had done earlier and met the delivery with a headed finish in front of the Stretford End. Wembley here we come!
United: Romero; Valencia (c), Bailly, Smalling, Shaw (Young 45); Matic, McTominay; Mata (Rashford 73), Lingard (Fellaini 88), Martial; Lukaku.
Subs not used: De Gea, Lindelof, Young, Pogba, Alexis.
Brighton: Krul; Schelotto, Dunk (c), Duffy, Suttner; Beram Kayal, Propper, Gross; Locadia, Ulloa (Murray 76), March (Izquierdo 69).
Subs not used: Maenpaa, Bruno, Goldson, Sanders, Baldock.
LUKAKU LOVES THE CUP
United have a lot to thank Romelu Lukaku for this season, particularly as the Reds chase the one piece of silverware left on offer. The Belgian has scored five of United’s 10 goals in the FA Cup having struck against Derby, Yeovil, twice at Huddersfield and now Brighton. Let’s hope he can keep it going under the Wembley arch.
WHEN IS THE SEMI-FINAL DRAW?
United will discover our Wembley opponents in the last four on Sunday afternoon following the last quarter-final of the weekend when Leicester City play Chelsea at the King Power Stadium. The draw will be live on BBC One and United will be ball no.2.