Manchester United’s uncanny ability to clinch tight games cannot make up for their alarming lack of cohesion

Nottingham Forest 0-1 Man Utd: Casemiro’s goal was the difference as Erik ten Hag’s men scramble through to the next round

Pete Hall
Wednesday 28 February 2024 22:29 GMT
After scraping past Forest with a late goal Man Utd now face Liverpool in the quarter-finals
After scraping past Forest with a late goal Man Utd now face Liverpool in the quarter-finals (AFP via Getty Images)

One FA Cup goal in a 1-0 success against Nottingham Forest in 1990 is credited with saving Sir Alex Ferguson’s job and setting the wheels in motion for the trophy-laden dynasty that was to follow.

Casemiro’s header late in the day to earn Manchester United a 1-0 victory against the same opposition 24 years later is highly unlikely to be remembered in the same bracket as Mark Robin’s famous strike to dig Ferguson out of a hole, but the Brazilian at least gives Erik ten Hag a fighting chance at proving he is the man to lead the Sir Jim Ratcliffe revolution into a brighter future.

It was not pretty, as United looked vulnerable at the back while profligate down the other end at the City Ground, but Casemiro’s late intervention from a Bruno Fernandes free-kick sees United through to a record 48th FA Cup quarter-final, in the competition that represents United’s only realistic chance of securing Ten Hag silverware for the second successive season.

Achieving such with this chaotic, disjointed United side will be a tall order, with Liverpool up next in the last eight. FA Cup success is also no guarantee of job security – just ask Louis van Gaal – but having a trophy on the negotiating table when Ratcliffe and Sir Dave Brailsford call Ten Hag into their office in the summer, should he last that long, gives the Dutchman a few more bargaining chips at least.

Casemiro’s lunging headed effort sent United into the next round (Action Images via Reuters)

Against a team looking to secure back-to-back home wins over United for the first time since 1984, the visitors started brightly, looking unusually threatening from the off, with the incongruous sight of Antony, back in the side in place of Omari Forson, almost scoring, curling an effort against the crossbar inside five minutes, adding to the bewilderment among Mancunians in attendance.

Having witnessed Fulham keep their side’s attackers quiet for 90 minutes at the weekend, United supporters should have been celebrating twice inside seven at the City Ground, with Scott McTominay heading far too close to Matt Turner in the home goal from point-blank range.

Marcus Rashford, again deployed centrally in Rasmus Hojlund’s absence, then fired over as United continued to press, but as has been the case for the majority of the season, even during their recent winning run, Ten Hag’s team remained porous in the extreme, with Forest passing through the visitors’ midfield like a fist through crepe paper.

Fourteen shots rained in on Andre Onana’s goal in the first half – only Sheffield United have faced more shots at goal than United in the Premier League this term – but the Cameroonian held his own, the pick of the opening period being a fine spring to his right to keep out Taiwo Awoniyi’s fizzing strike.

Andre Onana made some superb saves to keep United in the contest (Action Images via Reuters)

Onana again was equal to another drilled Awoniyi strike early in the second half, but United kept creating and wasting openings of their own. Each time, the home opportunities came about thanks to glaring errors from their opponents.

Rashford and Bruno Fernandes both should have done better from good positions, with extra time – something neither team wanted – seemingly looming.

Casemiro’s stoop to conquer saved the day. A lengthy VAR review did give Ten Hag an almighty fright, with Raphael Varane appearing to be in an offside situation, but the goal was given and the Dutchman can breathe again.

Continuing to scrape victories won’t be going unnoticed by the Ineos overlords, however. Performances have to improve, markedly. Doing so against Liverpool at Old Trafford in the FA Cup last eight would be a perfect starting point to do just that.

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