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FA Cup magic alive and kicking after Middlesbrough win, but what next for Manchester United?

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It was an FA Cup tie that had everything.

There was Cristiano Ronaldo putting a penalty wide, an astonishing Bruno Fernandes miss, a controversial equaliser and two former Manchester United youth team players coming back to haunt their former side.

Then there was of course a thrilling penalty shootout to decide it all. After 15 superbly taken spot-kicks, Manchester United youngster Anthony Elanga launched his effort over the bar to send Championship side Middlesbrough into the fifth round.

Boro boss Chris Wilder summed it up best in the immediate aftermath of his side’s famous win: “The FA Cup is alive and kicking.”

Controversial goal a big talking point

There were hints it was going to be one of those nights for Manchester United, even in a first half they largely controlled.

Ronaldo, so often so cool from the penalty spot, fluffed a chance to put the hosts ahead when he sent his effort just wide of the upright after Paul Pogba had been fouled.

It was soon forgotten, however, when Jadon Sancho’s deflected strike not long after put United ahead.

A second goal always felt necessary against a well-organised Middlesbrough side but the hosts missed numerous opportunities to get that with Fernandes most notably failing to capitalise on a mistake in the visitors’ defence.

And so a Middlesbrough goal duly arrived, although in controversial fashion.

As they attacked, the ball hit the hand of Duncan Watmore before he crossed for Matt Crooks to fire in from close range.

It seemed certain the goal would be chalked off but an overrule from VAR never arrived.

Fans watching on were left confused but it was a revision of the interpretation of the handball rule by football’s lawmakers the IFAB last summer that had been applied, with accidental handball now only penalised if the player in question then scores a goal.

“How can it be accidental if he controls the ball up in the air with his hand?” Manchester United interim boss Ralf Rangnick queried after the game. “It was clear it should not stand but in the end I was really surprised it stood.”

Even Wilder fully expected to see it ruled out: “I thought straight away it was handball. I thought it would be chalked out and delighted it wasn’t.”

A fairytale for brave Boro

Despite the controversy, it was a memorable win in what is shaping up to be a memorable season for Middlesbrough.

It is now 11 games unbeaten in all competitions, with Wilder’s side not only in the last 16 of the FA Cup but also in the mix for promotion to the Premier League.

This result had feelgood stories throughout with their equalising goal coming from Watmore and Crooks, two players who were on the books at Manchester United as youngsters but were released before making the grade at Old Trafford.

“It was amazing to make a difference and set up Crooksy,” said Watmore.

“Me and Crooksy were in a United age group team together here – so it is even more special.”

In the penalty shootout Paddy McNair, who spent several years at Manchester United, scored as did Sol Bamba, who overcame cancer to be able to continue playing.

“You cannot get any better than winning at Old Trafford on a Friday night,” Wilder added.

“We are delighted, the opposition will be wondering how they did not progress, it is the magic of the cup, we rode our luck, took our chances and took it to a shootout.

“You can’t do anything when it goes to penalties, you just hope they are positive and they took a fabulous approach. You give yourself an opportunity to witness scenes like tonight, 10,000 fans coming down the road and going away happy.”

Analysis: What next for Manchester United?

BBC Sport’s Simon Stone at Old Trafford:

Make no mistake, this is a body blow to Manchester United.

Home defeats early in both domestic cup competitions means they now require an unlikely Champions League triumph to avoid going without a trophy for a fifth straight season.

Rumours persist that United’s players are unsure of what is being asked of them by Rangnick, and the fact two players – Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard – have gone to the media to contradict his comments is startling. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine any player doing that in Sir Alex Ferguson’s time.

United have little time to lick their wounds.

Over an eight-day period, they face Burnley, Southampton and Brighton, a series of games leading up to their return to the Champions League during which they should really consolidate their top-four place in the Premier League.

Anything less than nine points, though, and the alarm bells will start getting louder and louder.

 

 

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