Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Manchester United beat fellow Premier League side Huddersfield to progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Lukaku opened the scoring after just three minutes, racing onto Juan Mata’s through ball before finishing at the near post.
The Belgium striker then got his 21st goal of the season early in the second half as he again broke clear of the Huddersfield defence, this time picking up Alexis Sanchez’s pass before calmly slotting beyond Jonas Lossl.
Juan Mata had a goal ruled out just before half time by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), although there was some confusion over whether the decision was a correct one.
But ultimately it did not matter as Manchester United set up a quarter-final tie with Brighton at Old Trafford.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) February 17, 2018
Huddersfield, who are 17th in the Premier League, gave a good account of themselves and created plenty of chances in a dominant first-half performance.
Tom Ince twice went close, bending an effort just wide of the far post after being put through by Rajiv van la Parra before the former Derby forward narrowly failed to get the right connection to a Florent Hadergjonaj pass in behind the defence.
However, the Yorkshire club’s focus will now return to ensuring Premier League survival.
VAR a talking point again
The Video Assistant Referee is being trialled in the FA Cup and League Cup this season and opinion on its contribution has been mixed.
It was praised after correctly overturning a decision to rule out Kelechi Iheanacho’s strike for Leicester in their 2-0 FA Cup win over Fleetwood last month but was also called a “shambles” by Alan Shearer for failing to award Chelsea a penalty in their FA Cup replay with Norwich.
Its contribution in this game also proved a talking point.
Mata appeared to have put Manchester United 2-0 up just before the break when he ran on to Ashley Young’s neat pass but while the visiting team was celebrating, referee Kevin Friend listened to his earpiece for the VAR’s input.
After a wait of around a minute, the goal was not given for offside.
“On the pitch I did not know if I was offside or not because the line was very tight,” Mata told BBC Sport. “I did what I have to do, which is score and celebrate, then I saw the referee speaking [into his earpiece].
“I am up for VAR to be honest, it is good for football. But today it seems like the decision was not very clear. I think we all wished the decision was made quicker.
“If it is not very clear I was always told the referee should give the benefit of the doubt but today they probably did not see any doubt watching the replay.”
Speaking on BT Sport at half-time, former United midfielder Paul Scholes said: “I don’t even think a Huddersfield player was appealing for offside. It’s very strange.”
However, former England manager Steve McClaren, commentating on the game for BBC Radio 5 live, felt it was the correct decision to rule the goal out.
“We saw it once and our judgement was that Mata was onside. I’m satisfied after seeing it again, it’s offside,” he said.
“It was close. There are teething problems with VAR, but if it takes 20 minutes, that’s how long it should take. If it proves that it’s the right decision, then it’s right to have VAR.”
Not vintage Man Utd, but job done
Much of the focus in the build up to the game had been on Paul Pogba, with Jose Mourinho using his pre-match news conference to dismiss reports the 24-year-old regretted joining the club and could leave this summer as “lies”.
Mourinho also confirmed Pogba, who has been struggling for form recently, would start at the John Smith’s Stadium but it was confirmed on Saturday morning that the France midfielder would actually miss the game because of illness.
Manchester United arguably missed Pogba’s presence in the first half of this game as they found themselves constantly overrun in midfield. The Terriers finished the first half with 54% of the possession, with Mourinho’s side largely limited to hopeful balls up to Lukaku.
But two moments of quality from their key creators got the job done, with Mata and Sanchez both expertly opening up the home side’s defence to allow Lukaku to do the rest.
The striker’s form in the Premier League has been mixed but he is certainly playing his part in Manchester United’s FA Cup run and has now scored 11 goals in his last 10 appearances in the competition.