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Man United avoid embarrassment but can’t escape ongoing problems after FA Cup win

Newport County 2-4 Man United: Late goals from Antony and Rasmus Hojlund saw the Red Devils avoid a replay

Pete Hall
Rodney Parade
Sunday 28 January 2024 19:09 GMT
Manchester United celebrate scoring their fourth goal against Newport County
Manchester United celebrate scoring their fourth goal against Newport County (AFP via Getty Images)

In reality, the Amber Army had won before a ball had been kicked, but Newport County will remember the day they took on the might of Manchester United and almost pulled off the mother of all FA Cup shocks.

Two goals down inside 13 minutes, with a star-studded Premier League giant crushing everything that lay in their path en route to the fifth round, the team 76 places below their illustrious opponents faced the prospect of their big day turning into a mauling of epic proportions.

But battling against the odds is all in a day’s work in this part of South Wales. Having seen off dodgy owners long before they became in vogue in English football, forever teetering on the brink of financial ruin, storming back to 2-2 in front of a raucous home following was nothing.

A first goal in 31 appearances for £85m Antony and a late Rasmus Hojlund goal steered a shellshocked United into the fifth round, but it was the embattled hosts, put together at a cost of one of Antony’s studs, who were the real victors.

Teams like Newport only the enter the wider footballing vernacular for two reasons – when their very existence is under threat, or one of the big boys are in town hoping to avoid a cup upset of Ronnie Radford proportions – and after what they have been through down the years, the Welshmen are entitled, more than most, to fully embrace the chance of the latter.

A temporary stand, complete with a makeshift TV studio, was erected to give Rodney Parade – the Exiles’ long-standing temporary home – a record attendance, with supporters doing their best to make life difficult for a United team with a sketchy record when under pressure.

What the visitors needed was an early goal to quieten the locals and with some still to take their seats inside the cramped home of Dragons RFC, Bruno Fernandes arrowed a superb opener into the net to set United on their way to seemingly a comfortable victory. Antony’s assist was the first time the Brazilian had registered a goal contribution all season.

Another clinical finish, this time from Kobbie Mainoo – his first senior goal for United – appeared to put the tie beyond Newport. Alejandro Garnacho should have done just that moments later but hammered against the crossbar.

Leads don’t sit well with this Manchester United incumbent, and sure enough, Bryn Morris’ speculative effort from distance nine minutes before the break found its way past Altay Bayindir, making his long-awaited United bow, via a deflection off Lisandro Martinez, to lift the roof, from the stands that have one, off Rodney Parade.

Things were about to get a whole lot better. There was only one team playing the ball around after the break, with United pinned back in their own half.

Newport came from two down to level the scores at 2-2 (PA)

The goal that sparked pandemonium in South Wales was worthy of a much grander stage, with the hosts building from back to front, creating the opening for Will Evans, the in-form striker who was a part-time footballer when not milking cows on the family farm less than three years ago, to prod home two minutes after the break.

With no Marcus Rashford in the squad, too ill to travel despite reportedly spending Thursday night in a Belfast nightclub, United required another misfiring forward to drag them over the line and nobody needed such a timely strike more. Luke Shaw’s shot came out sharply off the post and you could see the memes being readied as Antony attempted to hook the ball back towards goal. To the internet’s huge disappointment, the Brazilian’s effort crept inside the post.

The celebration was very much that of a relieved man. The fact it took facing League Two opponents for Antony to get on the scoresheet sums up just how disappointing he has been since following Erik ten Hag from Ajax.

Nine stoppage-time minutes piled the pressure on United, who threw on an extra defender in Harry Maguire to see the game out, but Hojlund gave the scoreline a more flattering look to finally put the tie to bed.

The reception was no less rapturous upon the final whistle. Newport County had Manchester United on the ropes for long periods. How many teams, at this level, can say that?

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