Ten Hag makes Man United's FA Cup semifinal win over Coventry feel like a defeat

LONDON — Manchester United are into the FA Cup final, but the manner with which they scraped past Coventry City will do nothing for Erik ten Hag’s prospects of remaining as manager.

If anything, the supporters who streamed out of Wembley and back to Manchester after watching their team win a penalty shootout at the end of a dramatic day will be more convinced than ever that the Dutchman is no longer the right man for the job. United were cruising at 3-0 before allowing Coventry to score three times in the final 20 minutes, including a 95th-minute equaliser, sending the game to penalties tied 3-3.

The Championship side were the better team in extra time and thought they had completed one of the greatest FA Cup comebacks ever when Victor Torp found the net with the final kick only to have their celebrations cut short by VAR and the tightest of offside calls. In the end it was more Wembley penalty heartbreak for Coventry, who lost in a shootout to Luton Town in last season’s Championship playoff final.

Stream the replay on ESPN+: Man United vs. Coventry City (U.S. only)

United, meanwhile, go on to the final against Manchester City, a repeat of last season’s showpiece. Ten Hag is likely to be on the touchline next to Pep Guardiola on May 25, but there is ever-increasing doubt that he will still be at Old Trafford next season.

“Mixed feelings, it is clear,” Ten Hag said when asked to sum up the day. “It’s an achievement to be twice in the FA Cup final in two years. In the last 20 years, United were five times in the final but we are now two times in two years. It’s a huge achievement.

“When you are so in control, dominating the game, 3-0 up, we should win it. The way we didn’t was not good. From the 70 minutes to the end we made mistakes.”

What, then, will Sir Jim Ratcliffe be thinking? The 71-year-old United co-owner was in the stands after completing the London marathon hours earlier, but watching Ten Hag’s team in the second half provided his most gruelling trial of the day.

The game was seemingly done and dusted in the 58th minute when Bruno Fernandes scored United’s third, only for the Red Devils to then inexplicably decide to remind everyone just how flimsy they are.

For much of the afternoon, Coventry played like a team just happy to be on a break from the Championship, where they’ve lost three of their past four games. But once Ellis Simms pulled a goal back in the 71st minute, United began to creak and crack, and Coventry took advantage.

Callum O’Hare got the second eight minutes later via a heavy deflection before referee Robert Jones caused bedlam in the sea of sky blue behind the goal by pointing to the penalty spot having spotted a debatable handball from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

VAR confirmed it, Haji Wright tucked it away and for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge in 2013, United had thrown away a three-goal lead.

With United now apparently determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Wright flashed a good chance wide in extra time and Simms hit the underside of the crossbar.

Only the VAR lines saved United from losing to Torp’s goal in the 121st minute — “I think it was a toenail offside” Coventry boss Mark Robins said afterwards — but Ten Hag still had to thank O’Hare and Ben Sheaf for missing penalties in the shootout. They’ve probably kept him in a job for an extra month.



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It said everything that when Rasmus Højlund scored with the decisive kick to book a second successive FA Cup final, the celebrations were muted. If it’s possible to be undeserving of victory having led 3-0, then United found a way to achieve it.

“We can play at very high levels, but in the same match we can go to very low levels and that’s not explainable,” Ten Hag said. “On several occasions we let each other down. Today we got away with it. With all the injuries, we don’t have so many tools. We don’t even have a back four in their best positions.

“On that part I have to give the team a compliment, the players managed that, they were in a position that is not in their best. They gave 100%, and it’s not always easy to play the best football when you’re not in your best position.”

Ten Hag has been keen to point to the long injury list as the key reason behind the team’s miserable campaign, but even though he faced Coventry without 10 senior players and Casemiro as an auxiliary centre-back, it didn’t explain the collapse.

Again he substituted Alejandro Garnacho in the second half and ceded an element of control. In the past month, the Argentine has been replaced with United leading Chelsea 4-3, leading Liverpool 2-1 and leading Coventry 3-0, and each time they’ve fallen away.

Garnacho was still running when he came off in the 66th minute, and it was noteworthy that Robins said United began to look “leggy” around the same time.

United’s new ownership team insists no decision has been made on Ten Hag’s future, but if he loses his job in the summer, it will be because of days like this.

He said afterward it was “crazy” to think that victory in an FA Cup semifinal might have weakened his position as manager, but that was the overriding feeling when Højlund’s final penalty nestled in the net.

Still in charge, no obvious successor and an FA Cup final against City to come, there’s still time for him to prove he should stay, but struggling past Coventry only provided more compelling arguments that he should go.

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