Manchester United’s wasteful win over Wigan shows just how much they still need to improve

Pep Guardiola knows what it is like, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini too. Erik ten Hag does not, and that represents hope of salvaging silverware from a sorry season. Three times in the last 11 years, Wigan had upset the odds and ejected a Manchester club from the FA Cup. Each was Manchester City, each a better team than Ten Hag’s Manchester United are now. But they averted embarrassment with an emphatic performance, if a relatively narrow scoreline, to set up a tie where defeat would be a still greater humiliation.

Newport or Eastleigh await in the fourth round, with a path to the last 16 looking navigable for last season’s runners-up. On a night when Ten Hag’s forwards were rampant at times but wasteful at others, a defender, in Diogo Dalot, broke the deadlock and Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty: United’s chance conversion rate this season remains resolutely low but they can at least hope their season has a happy finish.

The watching Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc, each set to join the board when Ineos’ investment is ratified, witnessed plenty of profligacy but also many of the qualities Ten Hag wants and which, in turn, may be required to convince his new paymasters he should be tasked with engineering a revival. United were committed and persistent, amassing 33 shots in total, a team who have been feeble or uninspired or self-destructive too often this season instead brimming with energy and the right kind of attitude. It amounted to one of their most commanding displays of the campaign; which, as they were facing a side 54 places below them and 18th in League One, it ought to be.

But Kobbie Mainoo was excellent, offering encouragement for the future. Ten Hag showed no complacency, his two changes necessitated by the absence of the ill Christian Eriksen and the injured Antony – needless to say, the latter was not missed – as Rasmus Hojlund returned. All three of Ten Hag’s forwards struck the woodwork, though Hojlund’s difficulties in scoring against domestic opposition continued, his winner against Aston Villa apart. Alejandro Garnacho provided moments of class while Marcus Rashford was irrepressible but a place on the scoresheet eluded him.

Diogo Dalot’s first half strike sent Man United ahead before the break


He had an assist, though. Dalot placed a shot into the far corner of the goal after Rashford casually laid the ball back to him. United’s second came when Liam Shaw just clipped Fernandes, who took the opportunity to go to ground. The United captain had missed a penalty against Chelsea last month. Undaunted, he converted this.

Until then, United had encountered resistance. Wigan’s goalkeeper had an eclectic evening’s work. Sam Tickle denied Rashford, who had twisted and turned before shooting. He excelled to thwart Hojlund, who was set up by Rashford. He saved from the Mancunian late on and stopped Fernandes from scoring a second, albeit in unconvincing fashion.

Yet there was a major reprieve for the highly-rated Tickle when he spilled a Rashford shot, it struck the post and he gratefully grabbed it on the line. There was another when he parried a swerving shot from Rashford, it struck Hojlund and rolled wide.

Wigan goalkeeper, Sam Tickle, had an impressive night to deny the likes of Marcus Rashford and Rasmus Hojlund


Meanwhile, Hojlund clipped the bar with a header from Garnacho’s cross, as the Argentinian did with a 20-yard shot. Scott McTominay was the culprit for a series of misses, the first glaring when he somehow sidefooted wide.

But in a sense, the crucial chance was the first. There was an early moment to suggest the competition could retain its magical powers for Wigan. The oldest cup competition can be defined by a club who were not in the Football League until the 1970s: over the last dozen years, Wigan have become a byword for giantkillings, and not just of City. They have been responsible for more than virtually anyone else, along with the biggest of all.

After two minutes, United were opened up too easily, Martial Godo crossing for the unmarked Thelo Aasgaard to shoot. His manager, Shaun Maloney, scored a winner for Wigan against United and the young Norwegian had a chance to emulate him. Andre Onana, a cause of problems too often this season, was a rescuer on this occasion, blocking Aasgaard’s effort.

And Wigan acquitted themselves very respectably, even if the gulf proved too great to bridge. For the nostalgic, there was the sight of Callum McManaman, the man of the match in the 2013 final, getting a cameo. Martial Godo offered the most energy any Martial has shown in a United game this season. With a name like that and Wigan’s cup history, there were the conditions for one of the most chastening defeats in United’s FA Cup history. Ten Hag and his team ensured there was no such blow.


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