After an exhilarating semi-final which shredded far more nerves than it needed to, Manchester United have booked their spot in next month’s FA Cup final after Anthony Martial’s stoppage time strike. It’s been nine years since they last reached this stage of the competition, losing a tight 1-0 final to Chelsea with Arsenal since becoming the competition’s most successful club with 12 wins to their name. But after a tight semi-final that threatened to lurch in Everton’s direction, United will be back at Wembley to face either Crystal Palace or Watford on Saturday May 21st.
It almost didn’t happen. An impressive first half display, with Marcus Rashford and Martial constantly buzzing around Everton’s back four, the first 45 minutes ended with United in front. United’s talented Frenchman was the architect, threading an excellent pass for Marouane Fellaini to fire in at the near post after dribbling along the touchline. Romelu Lukaku predicatly offered the Toffees’ greatest threat, but after an early defensive mix-up, United were glad to see his early shot blocked on the line by captain Wayne Rooney.
Despite creating several presentable opportunities, with the off-key Jesse Lingard spurning two efforts from close range, Everton were gifted a way back into the game when referee Anthony Taylor deemed Timothy Fosu-Mensah’s two-part tackle on Ross Barkley to be a penalty. The Dutchman did get the ball, and United’s players were incensed, yet they perhaps needn’t have worried; Lukaku’s disappointing afternoon was sealed when David de Gea stuck out his right hand to deny the Belgian from twelve yards. Still, the momentum quickly swung in Everton’s direction thereafter, with Chris Smalling unluckily diverting in Gerard Deulofeu’s cross into his own net after several close calls.
As tests of Louis van Gaal’s United go, this was gigantic, given this team’s tendency to wilt under pressure on big occasions. Thankfully for the beleaguered Dutchman, his side didn’t buckle, although Fellaini’s last-gasp heroics to again deny Lukaku from close-range having lost the ball in Everton’s half were crucial. After several crosses flashed across Everton’s penalty area had gone begging, a quick one-two with Rashford saw Martial stream forward, with Ander Herrera able to prod the ball in the Frenchman’s direction despite pressure from Phil Jagielka. The finish to Joel’s right sent the 30,000+ United fans into various states of rapture, with Martial and several of his teammates running into the crowd to savour the sort of moment that this club used to regularly dine on.
The elation on the pitch and off of it was palpable, with United displaying a fighting spirit scarcely seen during Van Gaal’s reign. Whilst the club’s future after this season is an concern lurching ever nearer, there’s no denying the sheer joy provoked by this result, and the excitement that a final visit will bring with it in a few weeks time. A last minute winner in a big game from an exceptional young talent; very much the United way.