Man United back in another FA Cup final against Man City after narrowly avoiding humiliation

Manchester United has set up another FA Cup final against fierce rival Manchester City in a way no one could ever have imagined
Manchester United players react during a penalty shootout at the end of the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Manchester United players react during a penalty shootout at the end of the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Manchester United set up another FA Cup final against fierce rival Manchester City in a way no one could ever have imagined.

In a semifinal match on Sunday that will live long in the memory, United blew a three-goal lead against second-tier Coventry, was saved by the narrowest of offside calls by the VAR in stoppage time of extra time to keep the score at 3-3, then came from behind in a penalty shootout to advance to the May 25 title match back at Wembley Stadium.

United's celebrations after Rasmus Hojlund converted the clinching spot kick for a 4-2 win in the shootout were as much of relief as joy. Indeed, United's players looked sheepish — almost embarrassed — as they left the field at England's national stadium compared to their Coventry counterparts, who received the adulation of their proud, flag-waving, blue-clad fans.

Advancing to the final in this manner will do nothing to quell the growing uncertainty around the position of United manager Erik ten Hag, whose job might not be saved even by beating City. United, the grandest club in England, is languishing in seventh place in the Premier League and the team's late collapse against Coventry followed a trend of similar performances in recent weeks that will alarm its new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe, who was in the crowd at Wembley after having run the London Marathon.

“The standard of the club is much higher than what we have been doing,” said United captain Bruno Fernandes, who could barely raise a smile despite his team getting to an FA Cup final.

City, which defeated Chelsea 1-0 in the first of the semifinals on Saturday, was a 2-1 winner over United in last year's final on its way to claiming a Premier League-FA Cup-Champions League treble.

That was the first ever cup final between the fierce local rivals — and another has arrived 12 months later. Few will expect a different outcome in next month's match, by which time City will hope to have been crowned Premier League champion again.

“It’s mixed feelings," Ten Hag said of beating Coventry. “The way we did it isn’t OK.”

United has picked up a nasty habit of blowing leads and it happened again against an inspired Coventry team that is eighth in the Championship and managed by Mark Robins — a former Man United striker who might have saved Alex Ferguson from getting fired three years into his storied tenure as United manager.

Scott McTominay, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes — with a shot that took a deflection before ricocheting into the net — scored to put United 3-0 up by the 58th minute.

Coventry, which was bidding to become the first non-Premier League club since Cardiff in 2008 to reach the final, fought back in remarkable fashion with goals from Ellis Sims in the 71st, Callum O'Hare in the 79th and then Haji Wright with an equalizing penalty in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Coventry was arguably the stronger of the teams in extra time, with Sims hitting the crossbar and Victor Torp having a goal in the first minute of second-half stoppage time ruled out because of a close offside call against Wright in the buildup.

“Had he cut his toe nail, it wouldn’t have gone to penalties,” Robins said.

United midfielder Casemiro, who played out of position at center back in the match, missed the first penalty of the shootout but United recovered, with Coventry failing twice from the spot.

LIVERPOOL WINS

Liverpool stayed competitive in the Premier League title race with a 3-1 win at Fulham that was illuminated by a stunning free kick by Trent Alexander-Arnold.

Ryan Gravenberch and Diogo Jota also scored for Liverpool, which moved level on points with leader Arsenal in the standings but has an inferior goal difference. They are one point ahead of Manchester City, which has a game in hand.

In other Premier League games, there were significant wins for Aston Villa and Everton, and a huge win for Crystal Palace.

Villa rallied to beat Bournemouth 3-1 and strengthen its bid for Champions League qualification. Unai Emery's team stayed in fourth place but moved six points clear of fifth-place Tottenham, which has two games in hand.

Everton defeated Nottingham Forest 2-0 to push five points clear of the relegation zone and boost its chances of extending its 70-year stay in the top flight. Forest published a social-media post after the game which appeared to question the integrity of a match official.

Palace scored four goals in the first 31 minutes on the way to a 5-2 win over West Ham.

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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes reacts during a penalty shootout at the end of the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Coventry City's Victor Torp Overgaard, centre, makes an attempt to score during the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Coventry City's Benjamin David Sheaf reacts during a penalty shootout at the end of the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Manchester United's head coach Erik ten Hag shouts to his players from the sideline during the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Manchester United's Scott McTominay, centre, scores his side's opening goal during the English FA Cup semifinal soccer match between Coventry City and Manchester United at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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Liverpool's Ryan Gravenberch, front, celebrates with Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp celebrates at the end of the English Premier League soccer match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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Liverpool's Diogo Jota celebrates after scoring his side's third goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Fulham and Liverpool at Craven Cottage stadium in London, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

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Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins celebrates after team-mate Moussa Diaby scores their second goal of the game during the English Premier League soccer match between Bournemouth and Aston Villa at Villa Park stadium in Birmingham, England, Sunday April 21, 2024. (David Davies/PA via AP)

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Aston Villa's Moussa Diaby, left, celebrates scoring their second goal of the game during the English Premier League soccer match between Bournemouth and Aston Villa at Villa Park stadium in Birmingham, England, Sunday April 21, 2024. (David Davies/PA via AP)

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