For Manchester United the knock-out treble remains a possibility. Without for a moment suggesting it was easy, United stumbled and stuttered into the sixth-round draw. But with United contemplating the need to stock up on silver polish, for Blackburn the rest of the season is clouded with the most miserable of duties: fighting to avoid relegation from the Championship. And however well they battled here, that reality clouds everything around Ewood.
The relative condition of the two local rivals
was evident in the stands. The United end was rammed, boisterous and endlessly noisy, while there were big swathes of empty seats in the Blackburn sections. Playing in the fifth round in the FA Cup against their nearby rivals and the locals prefer to stay at home: it was a sad indictment of the condition of the club. This, after all, was an operation that once dared to challenge the big city cartel; 20 years ago when United used to come to call it was to decide the destination of the Premier League title. Now the club’s supporters mark their day in the FA Cup by hanging Venky’s Out banners over all the bridges heading into town. And the abject lack of ambition by the owning family is summed up by the fact the entire Blackburn squad for this game cost £450,000. Which is roughly the equivalent of Paul Pogba’s match fee.
But, chivvied on by their manager Owen Coyle, Blackburn began the game as if discomfort were only temporary. They fizzed into the tackle, their full back Liam Feeney dashing down the flanks, their seasoned strike force of Danny Graham and Marvin Emnes full of guile.
And United began as if expecting to stroll. For 20 minutes they were woefully off the pace. Chris Smalling misjudged the bounce and let Emnes run free, then Marcos Rojo passed straight to a Blackburn shirt, then first Ashley Young then Marcus Rashford ran out of turf as they broke into the area.
Sensing they could exploit such complacency, Blackburn pressed forward. After just over a quarter of an hour of phoney war, Emnes let fly with a fierce shot on target after Henrikh Mkhitarayn had failed to clear. The shot stung Sergio Romero hands. But United had not yet properly rubbed the sleep dust from their eyes when, a moment later, Emnes brilliantly turned Rojo in the middle of midfield. He then supplied an adeptly timed through ball between Smalling and Matteo Darmian to Graham. The former Swansea man slipped a smart left foot finish past Romero. It was a goal that was coming. More to the point, the excellence of its execution was unimpeachable. Even Jose Mourinho was moved to applaud.
It also had the unintended effect of finally snapping United out of their lethargy. First Jason Steele saved from Ander Herrera, then Mkhitarayan shot wide from distance. Then, ten minutes after Blackburn had taken the lead, the Armenian showed anything Emnes could do he could do better. A long throw out from Romero found him on the halfway line, where he strode forward before playing a quite exquisite through ball, fizzing with back spin, which landed perfectly into Rashford’s path. Left onside by Feeney temporarily dozing at right back, the United centre forward found himself alone. He went round Steele with silky ease and passed the ball into the net.
But if it seemed the natural order had been restored, Blackburn were paying no heed. They continued attacking with verve and power. Craig Conway got in behind Young and with the United man sprawling hammered a shot over, then Charlie Mulgrew saw a shot deflected wide. Rovers were not letting this go lightly. Urgent forward run by Rashford, zigzagging through the home defence, but his final pass was well ahead of Jesse Lingard. Mkhitarayan’s feints and tricks were not fooling the Blackburn defenders.
Standing on the edge of his technical area, hands deep in the pockets of his mac, Mourinho had seen enough. Irritated by misfiring, he sent on the cavalry, cavalry of a sort well beyond the resources of the Venkys deprived home side. And within moments of Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahiimovic arriving, Herrera’s cross shot was almost turned in by the Swede. Rashford then piled forward again, his shot cannoning behind for a corner. The inevitable came five minutes after the pair had arrived. It was so simply executed. A long ball from Pogba found Ibrahimovic on his own in behind the Blackburn back line, he turned and with accomplished ease shot into the corner of Steele’s net for his 24thgoal of a gilded season.
Blackburn did not give up. Romero saved twice in a flurry of efforts, first from the substitute Connor Mahoney, then from Emnes. The ball landed that the feet of the other substitute Anthony Stokes. He steered it home, sending Coyle into temporary rapture. But it was from a position so far offside he was almost in Burnley. The matchsaving effort was ruled offside and, while Mourinho considered who to rest in their next cup tie, Coyle trudged off to contemplate the urgent need to take three points from Burton next weekend.
Do you think Manchester United’s quarter-final will be televised?
“The attitude of every player was good, and without that attitude we would not have won because Blackburn were very good, not the Blackburn of the Championship, and with a different attitude we would have lost.
“I am happy. We deserved to win but Blackburn probably deserved to go to Old Trafford but better for them this way [to focus on the relegation battle]. We have amazing, amazing [away] fans, sorry they cannot get tickets in the Premier League [in such numbers].”
He then goes on to smile and praise the amazing referee and the brilliant ball boy to his right …
Cup-holders Manchester United go through to the quarter-finals by virtue of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s winner but they were given a very stern test by Blackburn who, in the last few minutes, can tke great comfort from the skill of Connor Mahoney and Willem Tomlinson. The midfield played very well, too, but both goals showed how unsettled and shaky their defence has been.
We’re going to have four minutes more in total, two of which have been used up by United stroking the ball around.
United fans are giving it the full Herman’s Hermits again.
Now Darmian has to concede a free-kick having been beaten by Mahoney. Before they can take it, Mata comes on for Rashford.
Tomlinson halts Ibrahimovic mid-showboat and nips the ball off the striker as he tried to dummy him. He starts a counter and moves the ball up to Mahoney who drifts infield and shoots at Romero who drops it … Stokes hits the rebound instinctively from a yard into Romero’s face and Emnes knocks it through the United keeper who takes the force off it but cannot stop it rolling through to Stokes who taps it into an empty net but is a yard offside. Mahoney has some talent.
Pogba ought to go into the book for a sliding trip on Mahoney but seems to get away with it by running away from the referee before he can administer it. Mahoney takes the free-kick from the right with his left foot. He’s about 30 yards from goal but hits the first man.
Rovers make their last substitution, giving Willem Tomlinson his debut and taking off Danny Guthrie.
Pogba hammers another Hail Mary pass up the middle, 55 yards this time. Ibrahimovic is on his bike to chase it but would have needed a motorbike to catch it before Steele as it skipped off the greasy grass.
Anthony Stokes, once of Sunderland, Hibs and Celtic, replaces Danny Graham for Rovers.
A 40-yard pass from Pogba from the left, just inside the United half. Ibrahimovic waits and waits and waits for it to drop then steers his right-foot shot inside Steele’s left post.
Rovers 1-2 Man Utd (Ibrahimovic)
Mahoney has an instant impact with a right-wing cross that almost catches Romero unawares – but the keeper is on his toes.
Boyhood Rovers fan Mahoney replaces Feeney for Blackburn Rovers a minute after Herrera shoots from 25 yards and watches as the ball strikes Lenihan and goes wide for a corner that is wasted, as per.
Mkhitaryan sprays a glorious pass from the centre towards the left of the Rovers area where Ibrahimovic has left his marker for dead. But he airkicks his intended left-foot volley as the ball dropped over his right shoulder. Difficult to do but if anyone can, Ibrahimovic can.
Derrick Williams turns Young by the corner flag and arcs in a left-foot cross that is just too high for Graham to meet optimally. He leans back and cranes his neck but can only cushion the header rather than attack the cross and United deal with the second ball by wellying it clear.
Feeney, who I haven’t seen since his Millwall days, is having a fine game and rips in another right-wing outswinging cross that deserved more support from Graham and Emnes. Instead Romero, relatively untroubled, grasps it at full-stretch.
Rashford, who has come out to the left, was found by a scooped up-and-under from Carrick as he sprinted behind the defence from the flank but his first touch was wooden and Lowe had time to recover and bundle the ball away. Had he stunned it Rashford would have been clear on goal from about 10 yards.
Martial left just after he had earned a corner, from which Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on bis FA Cup debut. almost put United in the lead sliding in at the left post to knock in Herrera’s right-foot shot across goal. He was about as far from toeing it in as Paul Gascoigne with Darren Anderton’s cross against Germany in 1996, though it will not haunt as many dreams.
Lingard departs for Pogba. Martial leaves and Ibrahimovic comes on.
Blackburn corner on the left, curled as if for catching practice, straight down Romero’s throat. Pogba and Ibrahimovic are stripped and ready to enter proceedings.
Young hares off up the right and slams a low cross through the six-yard box moments before Conway hits him with a slide tackle. Conway’s progress was helped by the greasy pitch but he hurt Young, inadvertently. The ball, meanwhile, went straight into the diving Steele’s midriff.
Feeney shows Carrick inside and spurts to the byline on the right, bending an outswinging cross towards the far post where Young opts for discretion and knocks it behind for a corner that comes to nish.
Emnes takes up the clearance and turns on the speed so Lingard shoves him over to stop him getting away and takes a booking for his efforts.
Mkhitaryan, back to goal on the 18-yard line, receives Martial’s crisp pass, knocks it to the edge of the D and spins for the return. Lingard finds him with a prodded first-time pass but Feeney strong-arms him off the ball legitimately and knocks it clear.
United have started – as they did the first half – off the pace. Guthrie drives forward and pushes the ball out to Emnes up the right wing but the long, dipping cross was over hit and Young is happy to let it bounce over towards the corner flag before safely dispatching it upfield.
Rovers free-kick just inside the visitors’ half. Williams takes it long, driving a crossfield pass out to the Rovers right where Darmian takes the sensible option and knocks it out for a throw. Lowe and Feeney combine to spin in a cross towards the centre of goal where Conway, stepping in from the left wing, strike sit acrobatically with a round-house half volley that scuds straight at Romero.
Lowe plays a one-two with Guthrie then cuts a pass back to Mulgrew 40 yards from goal. The former Scottish footballer of the year wraps his left foot around it and pings a pass through the inside-left channel intended for Graham but Smalling heads it clear.
We’re off again. Young flies up the right in the Lancashire mizzle but loses out to Williams. Rovers switch play over to their right and Lowe bombs upfield.
Average touch maps
Blackburn Rovers shots
Manchester United shots
And so ends a very entertaining first half. Good Cup tie this. Blackburn have risen to the occasion and their experienced, sporadically top-class players Marvin Emnes, Charlie Mulgrew and Danny Graham have been tremendous. Craig Conway really should have put them 2-1 up and Jesse Lingard should have scored a second for United. It’s been very open and a treat to watch.
We’re going to have three added minutes and Lingard should have put United in the lead in the first of them. Carrick hiot a 40-yard diagonal pass from the centre out to Young raiding down the right. The right-back’s cross on the run is Wesley Brown-esque, circa 2008 that is, arrowed precisely on to the head of Lingard at the near post. He meets it perfectly but flashes his header wide of the far post,
United are playing keepball in their own half while Blackburn diligently plot the runs of United’s front four. So Mkhitaryan drops deep to pick up the ball and he spots an inch of pace for Rashford. He knocks it first time out to the right where Conway, on the cover, is fouled by Lingard.
Rovers corner from Mulgrew’s shot comes to naught.
Mulgrew is ill-served by the run of the ball through the United box from the left. He has to hit it with his mallet of a right foot rather than the rapier of his left and stabs his shot straight at Rojo.
And Blackburn come straight back at United through Conway, found by an excellent long pass from Mulgrew with that left-foot wand. He’s in space on the left but clips his shot too close to Romero and over the bar.
Having done so well to win the ball back, United give it away cheaply again when Herrera’s pass is too long for Young who gives him an earful for his failings.
Herrera takes it and boots it straight to Lenihan. Rovers break en masse, to the sound of an imaginary hunting horn (D’ye ken John Bull?) but Guthrie hesitates when he should have clipped a diagonal out to Feeney up the right and was blinsided by Mkhitaryan who tackled him fairly.
Rovers cannot clear their lines or hold on to the ball so back come United, this time up the right and Williams, beaten by Young and frustrated, hacks him down by the byline, a yard or so out of the box.
United are stroking it about, Herrera at the hub of everything, and work the ball out to the left for Martial. He drills a left-foot shot/cross through the box but it bounces all over the place and Rashford cannot control it cleanly.
Emnes is passed fit to continue and strolls back on, still rubbing the top of his left shoulder and collarbone.
Emnes is down on the far side of the field after being caught by Smalling across the forehead in a challenge. The ref stops play and we have at least two minutes delay while they assess his neck which took a jolt when he hit the floor.
United break upfield from a Blackburn free-kick close to the away side’s box. Mkhitaryan glides down the left and hits an exquisite pass with the outside of his right foot through an already-stretched defence that allows Rashford to open his body, sell Steele a dummy, and round the keeper before stroking a right-foot shot into the open goal.
Rovers 1-1 United (Rashford)
Mkhitaryan has a ping from 30 yards but no Paul Scholes or Ray Parlour is he.
United chance when Lingard piles down the right, cuts the ball back into the box from the byline and it eludes Rashford’s near-post run but pinballs through to the edge of the box for Herrera to drive crisply. Steele blocks it with both hands and the rebound falls to Lingard who is offside.
United free-kick on the right, taken by Herrera. he hits an outswinger with his right foot to the far post. Lingard gets up but is well-challenged and cannot get any momentum to apply power to his header. Steele catches it when it bounces up tamely off the turf.
Terrific move, sparked by Emnes’s cleverly disguised threaded pass after haring away from Rojo who was dawdling. Smalling tried to close the distance once his partner had been diddled but Emnes angled a pass beyond him for Graham who finished magnificently, curling a shot in at Romero’s left post. Jose Mourinho was impressed and applauded the goal.
GOAL!! Rovers 1-0 Man Utd (Graham)
Guthrie and Mulgrew press up and work the ball out to Emnes who smashes a first-time shot that swerves and dips, forcing Romero to dive to his left and claw it away from goal.
Rovers are flooding the centre of the park and force Carrick to drop deep and bail Rojo out when he miscues a clearance under pressure.
Mulgrew’s all right. Nice, slick passing from Carrick to Herrera just inside the Rovers half and the Spain midfielder hits a quick pass down the inside-left channel for Rashford who strides beyond Lenihan and Greer but is hounded down by Lowe and scuffs his shot.
Mulgrew needs treatment after a knock on the ankle from Lingard. Emnes had switched the play from inside-right to outside left for the overlapping Derrick Williams who used Conway to occupy Young after a mistake from Smalling. But the left-back’s cross was spooned straight down Romero’s throat. All you can hear are the United fans. Given the punishment Rovers fans have suffered for seven years, it’s hardly surprising that they’re muted.
Lingard dribbles his way from the edge of the box into it, using Mkhitaryan as a decoy, but fails to pull the trigger in time and Greer closes the distance, blocks and bustles it away.
Emnes is indeed playing in the hole and almost burst on to a dinked throughball from Feeney but Rojo beat him to it. United build up the right and Young rounds Williams before being block-tackled by Greer and the ball bobbles off his shin for a goalkick.
Better from Rovers – Feeney dribbles down the right and wins a thrown-in off Darmian who was covering. Lowe takes it short and Mulgrew plays a reverse back out to Feeney on the right with his tin-opener of a left-foot. Feeney crosses to the near post at an awkward height, Graham does well to hook it on with an unnaturally raised leg but Romero easily plucks the flick-on out of the air.
Mkhitaryan has already scared the life out of Mulgrew and Lenihan by running at them at full pelt. It comes to naught but the signs are there that pace will be the undoing of Rovers through the heart of defence and central midfield. Young is playing very high up the field at right back and he feeds Rashford who had spun out to the corner flag. Conway tracks him all the way back and tackles him, shepherding the ball out for a goal kick.
Manchester United kick off a second or two after Jose Mourinho grasps the knees of the men adjacent to him on the bench. United fans singing Something Tells Me I’m into Something Good very loud as they knock the ball 60 yards and it skips through to Steele in the Rovers goal.
Here come the teams
Michael Carrick leads Manchester United out, Jason Lowe at the head of Blackburn. Rovers have beaten QPR and Blackpool to get here but since the end of November their Championship record is P13. W2, D4 L7. Should they manage to win here it won’t be a case of usurping Lincoln but it will knock everything else off the top of our website and the splash cover photo of Monday’s sport supplements.
BT Sport thinks they will go for 4-5-1 with the former Celtic left-back, left-sided centre-back playing in midfield. I’m quicker than him and I’m pushing 50.
Has just rightly and righteously torn a strip off Blackburn’s inept and preposterous owners, Venky’s, who have run Rovers into the ground. They’re 23rd in the Championship after years of drift and under-investment, the crazy decision to appoint Steve Kean and selling player after player.
Injured? Ill? in China? We’re told the former, the Twitter Brains Trust thinks it signals the latter.
Those teams again in the Tar Paper Stomp style
Blackburn Rovers Steele; Williams, Lowe, Greer, Mulgrew; Conway, Guthrie, Lenihan, Feeney; Emnes, Graham.
Substitutes Raya, Stokes, Hendrie, Nyambe, Tomlinson, Mahoney, Brown.
Manchester United Romero; Young, Smalling, Rojo, Darmian; Carrick, Herrera; Lingard, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Rashford.
Substitutes Henderson, Bailly, Shaw, Schweinsteiger, Pogba, Mata, Ibrahimovic.
Referee Martin Atkinson (Leeds, Leeds, Leeds).
Rovers name their XI (and the bench)
If it’s team news you’re after, let us oblige.
No word from Rovers yet, but here’s United with no place for Wayne Rooney in the XVIII. Luke Shaw only on the bench and Zlatan Ibrahimovic takes a breather, after what happened in Sweden on Friday night, (Sweden!), but is on hand should he be needed:
What is it?
The FA Cup fifth round tie between north west rivals Blackburn Rovers, who are 23rd in the Championship and Manchester United, who are sixth in the Premier League.
Where is it?
At Ewood Park.
What time is it?
The match will kick-off at 4.15pm on Sunday February 19.
What TV channel is it on?
BT Sport 2, with coverage starting at 3.45pm. It will be United’s 57th consecutive televised FA Cup tie.
What’s the team news?
Jose Mourinho is expected to make changes from the side that beat St Etienne in the Europa League on Thursday night.
Sergio Romero will replace David de Gea in goal, while Luke Shaw could be given a chance to stake his claim for a first-team spot. Centre-back Axel Tuanzebe made his first-team debut in the last round and could get on as a substitute.
Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Wayne Rooney are all doubtful with slight injuries, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan is recovering from illness.
Probable United XI (4-2-3-1): Romero; Valencia, Rojo, Bailly, Shaw; Herrera, Carrick; Mkhitaryan, Rooney, Lingard; Rashford.
For Blackburn, Hope Akpan is suspended, while Sam Gallagher and Gordon Greer are doubtful. Elliott Ward, Adam Henley, Corry Evans, and Tommie Hoban are all out injured.
Probable Blackburn XI (4-4-2): Steele; Nyambe, Mulgrew, Lenihan, Williams; Feeney, Guthrie, Lowe, Conway; Graham Emnes
What have they been saying?
“To play an elite club like Manchester United is a wonderful opportunity,” said Coyle.
“Particularly for our young players it’s a chance to stand toe to toe with world-class players. As opposed to sitting at home watching those world-class players on TV they are going up against them.
“This game is a chance for some of those players to see how far they’ve got to go, to say ‘maybe I need to hone my craft a little, this is what I need to do’.
“We know if we play to our best and Manchester United play to their best then, ordinarily, they will win. But if they are slightly off that’s how shocks are created. It can happen in cup games.
“We need two things to happen – for us to be at our very best and for Man United to be off their game.
“That can happen in cup games and if it does we have to be ready to maximise our opportunity.”
“I am not going to throw it away,” he said.
“We go to Blackburn with that respect… So I go serious. I’m going with a good team and I respect the competition a lot.”
Any good stats?
- Blackburn and Manchester United last met in the FA Cup in 1984/85, with United winning 2-0 in Round 5 with goals from Gordon Strachan and Paul McGrath.
- Rovers haven’t beaten Manchester United at home in any competition since winning 4-3 February 2006 (D3 L3). David Bentley scored a hat-trick in that game.
- Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young both scored in United’s last visit to Ewood Park back in April 2012, a 2-0 win.
- Manchester United have won both of their FA Cup ties this season by a 4-0 scoreline against Championship teams Reading and Wigan.
- Anthony Martial has been involved in nine goals in his last eight FA Cup games (3 goals, 6 assists).
- This is the third season in a row that Blackburn have made it to the fifth round – they lost 5-1 to West Ham last season but beat Stoke City 4-1 in 2014/15 at this stage.
- Blackburn have lost only one of their last five games at Ewood Park in all competitions (W3 D1).
- Mourinho’s side have lost just one of their previous nine away matches in all competitions (W6 D2).
What are the odds?
- Blackburn win: 10/1
- Draw: 9/2
- United win: 1/3
What’s our prediction?
United to win 5-2.
What do you think?