Manchester United will contest the first ever Manchester derby FA Cup final after squeezing past Brighton and Hove Albion 7-6 on penalties at the end of a 0-0 draw, Solly March’s miss proving decisive.
Brighton had arguably been the better team through 120 minutes of play, but both they and United were wasteful in front of a tense Wembley crowd.
A high-level shoot-out looked as though it was going to go on a while until March’s misstep, and Victor Lindelof duly capitalised to send United into a record-equalling 21st FA Cup final.
The EFL Cup winners will face rivals Manchester City for the crown, with United reaching both domestic cup finals in a single season for the first time since 1994.
3 – For only a third time in the club’s history, Manchester United have reached the final of both the League Cup and FA Cup in the same season – also doing so in 1982-83 and 1993-94. Specialists. pic.twitter.com/e40ZYEQmZ7
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 23, 2023
Having endured a nightmare on Thursday, David de Gea provided an early reminder of what he can do when tipping a goal-bound Alexis Mac Allister free kick around the post.
It was not until the final stages of the first half that United enjoyed sustained threat.
Bruno Fernandes drilled agonisingly wide of the bottom-left corner; Christian Eriksen then drew an unorthodox save from Sanchez when his disappointingly tame effort failed to make the most of Marcus Rashford’s cut-back.
United were on the ropes again at the start of the second half, De Gea denying Julio Enciso with a stunning save before Danny Welbeck headed over from close range.
But the Red Devils responded well.
Antony twice tested Robert Sanchez, and desperate Brighton defending prevented Casemiro getting a shot away after great work by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Extra time always looked likely thereafter, however, and the period yielded chances at both ends – a dreadful touch robbed Deniz Undav of a certain goal, Sanchez then did brilliantly to tip Rashford’s deflected strike wide.
Penalties were inevitable and the standard of the kicks was exceptional, but March – a standout performer until then – sliced his effort well over and Lindelof coolly planted the winning effort into the top-right corner.
What does it mean? Red Devils unspectacular but their progress is difficult to deny
Most would agree Brighton were the better side on the day, and frankly few would claim that was a surprise given many had the Seagulls as favourites for this contest.
United rode their luck, requiring some excellent De Gea saves to remain level. Of course, they did have opportunities of their own, but the longer the contest went on – and considering the Red Devils goalkeeper’s terrible record facing penalties – a Brighton victory looked most likely.
They simply held their nerve better at the vital moment and thus secured their place in a second final of the season. Sure, the performance was not particularly impressive, but you have to agree Erik ten Hag is having a transformative impact.
Lindelof rises to the occasion
Swedish centre-back Lindelof dealt the decisive blow, and his penalty was brilliant. But his influence went far beyond one kick.
United came into this amid something of a defensive crisis due to injuries and suspensions, but Lindelof was genuinely exceptional. Time and time again he was in the right place at the right time, his five clearances and 11 recoveries more than anyone else on the pitch. A fitting match-winner.
De Gea comes to the fore
He had a shocker in Thursday’s 3-0 defeat to Sevilla, arguably culpable for all three goals. At Wembley, he was far less willing to take any risks and that relieved the pressure a little.
Then he made several immense saves to thwart Brighton. While he once again looked like a bystander in the shoot-out, his general performance was a solid response to Thursday.
United will return to Wembley to face City on June 3.
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