London: Manchester United bounced back from a difficult week with a 7-6 shootout win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday that booked an FA Cup final spot to the relief of manager Erik ten Hag.
Three days after a humiliating Europa League exit against Sevilla, United’s victory at Wembley on penalties after a 0-0 stalemate was music to the ears of their Dutch manager.
“On Thursday I saw a team I didn’t recognise but today we went back to usual,” he said. “I could see determination and resilience. We fought for every yard and competed in every battle. We had good chances.”
The normally measured Ten Hag was livid with his team’s lack of effort on Thursday and admitted yelling at the players after their 3-0 rout for a 5-2 aggregate defeat in the quarter-finals.
“I can’t accept that my team is not giving its best,” said the Dutchman.
But there was nothing but positive words on Sunday after Victor Lindelof, United’s seventh player to step up to the spot, slotted home the winning penalty after Brighton’s Solly March missed by launching the ball over the bar.
It was the first-ever FA Cup semi-final shootout to go to sudden death. “He is quite cool when it comes to penalties and he’s quite cool in general,” Ten Hag said of Lindelof.
United’s manager was also pleased with his goalkeeper David de Gea, who was kept busy by several Brighton efforts.
“He made some brilliant saves. It hurt when he made mistakes on Thursday,” Ten Hag said. “Often when you make mistakes as a keeper you get punished. We let him down, we didn’t fight back for him. We bounced back today though.”
Sunday’s win set up the first all-Manchester FA Cup final, after City cruised past Sheffield United 3-0 on Saturday, and Ten Hag’s second showpiece match in his first season at the helm after he guided United to a League Cup triumph in February.
“Whether Manchester United win the cup or not it’s going to be a fantastic season for them. They’ve achieved all their goals this season. Erik Ten Hag deserves credit,” said BBC pundit Alan Shearer.
Brighton had hoped to continue their dream run to what would have been their second FA Cup final before the wayward penalty from March, who hung his head crestfallen, hands on hips, after the miss while Brighton boss Roberto de Zerbi consoled him.
“In penalties anything can happen. You can make mistakes. March is one of the best players in our team and I’m proud of him and the rest of the players, especially today,” De Zerbi said.
“(March) is sad but, I repeat, we have to close this day and tomorrow we have to think about another game. We need the possibility to forget. We want to achieve in Europe.”
Brighton are eighth in the Premier League and battling to secure a European qualifying spot for next season.