Zlatan Ibrahimovic came off the bench to grab a late winner as Manchester United came from behind to beat Blackburn Rovers 2-1 in the Emirates FA Cup fifth round at Ewood Park.
The Reds fell behind early on to a Danny Graham strike, but responded through Marcus Rashford before the break. Paul Pogba and Ibrahimovic were introduced just after the hour-mark and the pair combined for Ibrahimovic’s winner 15 minutes before the end.
Jose Mourinho continued his rotation policy making seven changes to the side that defeated Saint-Etienne. Sergio Romero retained his place in goal, while Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford all came in.
United, who arrived into this tie having won four of the last five matches in all competitions, having kept five clean sheets in the process, controlled the early proceedings in terms of the possession stats. It was Rovers however who had the first strike at goal as Marvin Emnes hit a 25-yard pile driver, which Romero did well to punch away.
That was to be a warning to the United defence, as moments later Emnes turned Rojo on the edge of the box and played in former Swansea striker Graham, who fired high past Romero to give the hosts a shock lead. It was the first goal United had conceded in over 450 minutes of football.
Mourinho’s men should have perhaps been back on level terms six minutes later as Lingard’s cross fell to Ander Herrera inside the box, but he fired straight at Jason Steele, who palmed away.
But the Reds didn’t have to wait long before parity was restored as the magician Mkhitaryan, neatly beat Danny Guthrie in central midfield, before playing an inch-perfect outside of the foot pass for Rashford, who showed his growing maturity, to calmly round Steele and tap home – game on.
Craig Conway had a chance to put Rovers back in front as he latched on to Jason Lowe’s fantastic crossfield switch of play, but fired over from a tight angle as the game continued to ebb and flow.
At the other end Lingard had a chance with a header from a right-wing Young cross, but he failed to connect properly meaning the sides went in level at the break.
Possession: Blackburn 33% United 67%
Shots at goal: Blackburn 4 United 7
Shots on target: Blackburn 2 United 2
Corners: Blackburn 1 United 2
Owen Coyle’s men had the first sight at goal in the second half as Conway volleyed at Romero, but unfortunately for the hosts it was straight at United’s stopper.
The Reds continued to dominate possession, but struggled to break down a stubborn Blackburn defence. Mourinho therefore opted for his reinforcements from the bench in the shape of Pogba and Ibrahimovic.
And it was the latter who so nearly had an immediate impact, but he could not reach far enough to tap in Herrera’s cross-cum-shot at the far post.
Ibrahimovic didn’t have to wait too much longer for his chance to grab the headlines again though as Mourinho’s double substitutions proved inspired.
Pogba picked the ball up deep in midfield and found Ibrahimovic with an inch-perfect ball over the top. The Swede did the rest, calmly chesting down before finding the far corner with a typically expert finish – his 24th goal of the season.
Rovers thought they had a late leveller five minutes before the end as substitute Stokes tapped home, but he was stood in an offside position after the ball had fallen to him following a triple save from Romero.
The hosts pushed for a goal which would have meant a replay at Old Trafford, but the Reds held firm and stayed on track for back-to-back FA Cup triumphs and can now look forward to the quarter-finals.
Possession: Blackburn 35% United 65%
Shots at goal: Blackburn 8 United 13
Shots on target: Blackburn 6 United 3
Corners: Blackburn 5 United 5
Blackburn: Steele; Greer, Lowe, Lenihan, Williams; Feeney (Mahoney 73), Guthrie (Tomlinson), Mulgrew, Conway; Emnes, Graham (Stokes 76).
Subs not used: Raya, Hendrie, Nyambe, Brown.
United: Romero; Young, Smalling, Rojo, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera; Lingard (Pogba 62), Mkhitaryan, Martial (Ibrahimovic 62), Rashford (Mata 89).
Subs not used: Henderson, Bailly, Shaw, Schweinsteiger.
Booked: Lingard, Young.