Harry Maguire scored deep into extra-time as Manchester United overcame valiant 10-man Norwich to reach the FA Cup semi-finals.
The England defender, who moments earlier had a header brilliantly saved by Tim Krul, reacted sharply to turn in the loose ball at the far post.
The game turned on the dismissal of substitute Timm Klose in the 89th minute. Norwich were in the ascendancy after equalising and looked favourites to snatch a late winner before the German was shown a straight red for pulling back Odion Ighalo.
The video assistant referee checked Jon Moss’ decision and confirmed it within seconds.
Neither side particularly impressed in attack, although both goals in normal time were of high quality.
The first was scored by Ighalo, who continued his good run in cup competitions with a flicked effort with the outside of his boot in the 51st minute.
The second goal was even better. Todd Cantwell, Norwich’s best player in attack at Carrow Road, let fly from 25 yards with a low swerving shot that beat the reach of Sergio Romero.
Norwich will now focus on their increasingly difficult task of beating the drop from the Premier League. As for United, this was a patchy display but they remain in contention in two cup competitions and for a top-four spot in the league.
Fortune shines on below-par United
A third semi-final in the past five seasons, but perhaps this match further highlighted United’s need to strengthen the squad.
Solksjaer, bar one change, faithfully stuck to the XI that got United to this stage however the attacking display they produced for much of the match was, at best, tepid. Without Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford from the start, they lacked the pace and guile needed to get behind a Norwich defence that was well protected by the defensive midfield work of Alex Tettey.
Left-back Luke Shaw, one of those players below par in the opening period, drove behind the Canaries backline and fired in a cross that was played by Juan Mata into the path of Ighalo, who produced a clever finish. That was the Nigerian loan signing’s fifth goal in just five cup competition matches for United.
The statistics read ‘no shots on target’ in the opening 45 minutes – six minutes after the break that became one shot on target and one goal. If Solskjaer did give a 2020 update of the ‘hairdryer treatment’ then it certainly worked.
But instead of building on that advantage, United retreated into their shell again allowing Norwich to get back into the game.
Thankfully for the visitors, the cup gods were smiling down on them when Klose was sent off and, having a stronger bench to call on, it seemed inevitable United would break Norwich resistance.
Krul did his best to keep them at bay, saving from Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford – three of United’s six substitutes – before remarkably clawing Maguire’s header off the line.
But with two minutes of extra-time remaining, United finally wore their opponents down when Maguire pounced to hooked home.
Cantwell’s shines in Norwich exit
Norwich, like United, made changes to their XI with Farke bringing back first-team trio Emiliano Buendia, Teemu Pukki and Cantwell into the fold – the latter two who helped Norwich make that brilliant start to the season.
Finn Pukki, who has now not found the net in the past nine matches, struggled again, but his 22-year-old team-mate improved as the game wore on. Cantwell’s goal in the 75th minute was a delight – cutting through the ball as his shot found the bottom corner.
It was just reward for Norwich who controlled play after Ighalo’s goal. However, when Klose was sent off the Canaries knew extra time would be spent trying to see the match through to penalties.
They almost succeeded.
Man of the match – Tim Krul (Norwich)
Norwich City manager Daniel Farke: “Football can be cruel sometimes and it can be the cruellest sport in the world.
“Of course it’s a disappointing outcome for us. I think the lads deserved more. They left their heart out on the pitch.
“Manchester United are totally on the up and more or less on the way to finishing in the Champions League positions, they had all players available.
“To deliver this performance is good for the confidence, without any doubt. In terms of confidence and mood, it was definitely a big boost.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to BBC Sport: “It is cup football for you, the game was not the greatest spectacle but I felt we kept the ball OK but did not threaten much or create chances.
“Delighted to be in the last four and we got a good workout for many of the players. It’s nice for Harry Maguire to get the winner.
“It is great to have the option to rotate. Anthony Martial came on and did brilliant but Odion Ighalo gives me a chance to rotate and he is a proven goalscorer and played his part in both goals. He is a great person to have around the dressing room too.”
Norwich travel to Arsenal in the league on Wednesday (kick-off 18:00 BST), while Manchester United head to Brighton the day before (20:15).
United cup shutout ended – the stats
- Manchester United have reached their 30th FA Cup semi-final, more than any other team in the competition.
- Manchester United have won 11 of their last 13 away games at Norwich in all competitions (L2), winning each of their last four.
- Norwich are winless in their last eight home FA Cup matches (D3 L5) since a 4-1 win against Burnley back in January 2012.
- Manchester United boss Solskjaer is the first manager to make six substitutions in a competitive match in English football.
- Cantwell’s seventh goal of the season ended United’s run of 448 minutes without conceding in the FA Cup, last conceding in last season’s quarter-final against Wolves.
- United striker Ighalo has scored in each of his last three appearances against Norwich City in all competitions, netting home and away for Watford in the 2015-16 Premier League season.
- Ighalo has scored in all four of his starts for Man Utd (5 goals), scoring with his first shot in this match, with what was the game’s first shot on target.
- Norwich City defender Klose received his first red card since being sent off for Wolfsburg against Hannover in the Bundesliga in August 2013.