Fulham’s FA Cup aspirations vanished in smoke and fury against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, overwhelmed by red mist and, eventually, the number of red jerseys. Marco Silva’s men crumbled after leading 1-0 with 16 minutes of normal time remaining, with no other term appearing appropriate for four-and-a-half minutes of second-half mayhem that began with the allocation of a penalty via VAR for a handball by Willian.
Fulham’s manager, Marco Silva, followed Willian and Aleksandar Mitrovic down the tunnel as the team went from a 2-1 lead to a 2-1 deficit and, more crucially, from 11 men to nine men due to three red cards. United added a third, Bruno Fernandes, in the final minute of stoppage time, despite the odds, the numbers, and the overpowering enthusiasm inside this stadium.
This was an implosion, as Fulham’s first semi-final place in 21 years was snatched away from them. Willian was rightfully sent off for tripping Jadon Sancho’s goal-bound shot on the line, preventing Fernandes from equalizing from the spot.
As referee Chris Kavanagh was asked to check at the pitchside monitor, he was challenged verbally by Silva and then verbally and violently by Fulham’s goalscorer Mitrovic. Silva had been a ticking time bomb all afternoon, arguing with the fourth official over every decision from the moment he thought Mitrovic should have got a penalty after being pushed by Luke Shaw in the opening minutes.
Nevertheless, of the three, the Serbian striker’s acts were the most heinous. In a day where grassroots referees face extraordinary threats, the FA will undoubtedly be pressed to look into the potential of imposing a suspension of more than three games on the Fulham official.
Sabitzer turned in Luke Shaw’s squared pass after the full-overlapping back’s run was picked up by Sancho after Fernandes had sent Bernd Leno the wrong way to level. The Austrian international’s heel finish sailed in with neither Leno nor the United midfielder knowing much about it.
Fernandes added a third in the dying seconds, blasting in from the right side to clinch United’s place at Wembley alongside Brighton. The Seagulls and Sheffield United stand in the way of both Manchester clubs meeting in the competition’s final for the first time.
Pep Guardiola’s team will be long shots to keep their end of the agreement against Championship competition, but if United are to meet their target date, they must play better than this. Fulham dominated throughout much of the game, while United looked disjointed, tired, and ragged.
Once again, David de Gea saved wonderfully from Antonee Robinson, Willian, and subsequently Mitrovic in the second half to keep them in the tie. The second, diving full length to get fingertips on Willian’s curling attempt and turning it around the post, demonstrated that he is a reactionary shot-stopper without rival.
Issa Diop had flicked the ball into Mitrovic’s path after he had wheeled in from a corner. The Serbian’s most telling intervention, though, was his leave. One down but level could have been tolerable, but two down and behind proved impossible, and they can only blame themselves.