United through after March misses from the spot

Brighton and Hove Albion prepared to battle Manchester United at Wembley Stadium for the right to progress to the FA Cup final – where they’d play Manchester City. The Seagulls would be hoping to go one step closer to winning their first taste of major silverware – while for Manchester United, a win will have them join Arsenal as the club with the joint-most FA Cup final appearances. It would also provide Erik Ten Hag with the chance to add to his Carabao Cup win, and make it two trophies for the season.

BHA: Sanchez; Estupinan, Dunk, Webster, Groß; MacAllister, Caicedo; Mitoma, Enciso, March; Welbeck

MUN: De Gea; Dalot, Shaw, Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka; Eriksen, Casemiro; Rashford, Fernandes, Antony; Martial

Roberto De Zerbi’s had the upper-hand headed into this fixture, as Brighton have won the last two contests between the clubs – and their opponents are fresh off the back of a dismal showing against Sevilla in midweek.

Early into the game, Brighton won a free-kick just outside the box and Alexis MacAllister almost opened the scoring from the resulting set-piece, but was denied by De Gea. The Seagulls came close once more in the 15th minute, as a cross from the byline fell to Mitoma on the edge of the box – but the Japanese international snapped and the ball flew wide.

Enciso looked to bag the opener in the 32nd minute after a brilliant recovery tackle from Wan-Bissaka on Mitoma left the ball right at the feet of the Brighton midfielder, though he fired wide. After a prolonged spell of Brighton dominance, Manchester United finally woke up at the end of the first half as Casemiro played in Fernandes following a Robert Sanchez mistake – only for the Portuguese midfielder to shoot wide of the post.

Right afterwards, Eriksen found himself unmarked on the edge of the Brighton box after a fine pass from Rashford, but the midfielder was denied by the boot of Sanchez. After a fairly uneventful first half with a lack of clear-cut chances for either side, both teams headed down the tunnel with nothing to separate them.

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Immediately after the restart, Brighton hit Manchester United with a 15 minute spell of pure dominance and had a plethora of chances to break the deadlock. Casemiro cleared a looping header off the line which caused a scramble in the box, with the ball falling to Enciso who had his lashed attempt pushed over the bar by De Gea. From the resulting set-piece, Danny Welbeck – the former United man – missed a glorious chance to put Brighton ahead, as his unmarked header from inside the six-yard box sailed over the crossbar.

Manchester United were soaking up the pressure well, and were finally able to fashion a chance for themselves – but a poor decision from Antony to not play in Bruno who was in space in the box resulted in a tame effort being fired straight at Sanchez. The ‘keeper then immediately sprung a counter, which led to Solly March isolating Dalot in the box and firing at De Gea who was once again up to the challenge and prevented the Brighton winger from scoring.

Erik Ten Hag’s men were seemingly unable to play through Brighton, and were limited to long range efforts that Robert Sanchez was equal to. On the other hand, Brighton were creating brilliant chances throughout the game. Welbeck was slipped in brilliantly by Groß, only for the striker to be heroically blocked by Lindelof who threw himself in before the forward to prevent a chance at goal. Unfortunately for Welbeck, this signalled the end of his night as he was substituted due to an injury.

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In the dying moments of the game, Brighton had a corner which landed on the head of March inside the six-yard box, but the Brighton player directed his effort over the horizontal to keep the game scoreless at the full-time whistle – we’d enjoy another thirty minutes of Wembley action!

Just four minutes in, Undav was through on goal after Brighton carved their way through the United defence, but the striker’s touch was too heavy – allowing Dalot to poach it off him before the striker could get the shot off.

Fred’s relentless pressing carved out a chance for Rashford at the end of the first half of extra time but the forward was denied at full stretch by Sanchez to remarkably keep the score level. With 105 minutes played, somehow we’d still not seen a goal.

Kaoru Mitoma of Brighton came closest in the second period of extra time when he wriggled his way around the defence, finding himself unmarked after a cute one-two with MacAllister – but his touch squirmed away from him into the path of De Gea.

Robert Sanchez comfortably held on to the last attempt of the game in the 117th minute – a long ranged effort from Casemiro. With nothing to separate the two sides after 120 minutes of end-to-end football, the game headed into a dreaded penalty shootout.

I say dreaded, because both of these teams have horrible luck from the spot – as Brighton have lost their last two shootouts, while United have lost 7 of their last 8. One side were set to improve their record, while one would painfully extend their suffering.

Alexis MacAllister stepped up first and scored, but was matched by Casemiro who levelled the score. This was followed by six converted penalties by Groß, Undav and Estupinan for Brighton while Dalot, Sancho and Rashford all fired in for United to keep the scores level at 4-4.

Lewis Dunk stepped up for Brighton and coolly tucked it in to pile all the pressure on Marcel Sabitzer. The situation was simple: score and it goes to sudden death, or miss and end United’s pursuit of a domestic cup double. Despite getting a huge hand onto it, Sanchez couldn’t keep the Austrian’s penalty out and the tie was headed into sudden death.

Webster converted for Brighton before Weghorst sent the keeper the wrong way to keep the score at 6-6. We were headed for the 13th penalty – a number synonymous with bad luck in many cultures. Superstition was right, as Solly March fired his penalty way over the bar, leaving the game in the hands of Victor Lindelof. Staying true to his nickname of The Iceman, the defender coolly slotted the ball into the top right corner of the net to send Manchester United through to the finals.

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Manchester United will breathe a sense of relief as they managed to get past a resilient Brighton side, who on the day created the better chances and were just lacking an end product that could’ve sent the Seagulls into their first final since 1983.

For the first time in the competition’s long and distinguished history, it will be a Manchester Derby in the final. It’ll be the third volume of Erik Ten Hag v Pep Guardiola – another mouthwatering Red v Blue affair. A mere four miles separates their two stadiums, but it’s ninety minutes that will separate either club from getting one over their arch rivals on June 3rd.