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The fifth round of the FA Cup was loaded with upsets. The capacity for surprise remains that tournament’s enduring charm.
The big headliner was Lincoln City of the fifth tier beating Premier League side Burnley 1-0. Third-tier Millwall beat Premier League champions Leicester City 1-0. Second-tier Huddersfield Town held Manchester City to a 0-0 tie and forced a replay.
On Sunday, Manchester United went behind to Blackburn Rovers, currently in the throes of a relegation battle in the second-tier Championship – and losing that fight, sitting second-from-last, in 23rd place.
Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils were bailed out by a 75th-minute 2-1 winner crafted by his two substitute stars, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and midfielder Paul Pogba. The latter served up the former, and the 35-year-old Swede tallied his 24th goal of the season. That score moved him in a tie with Anthony Martial for the most goals scored for United over both this season and the last. What’s rather remarkable about that is that Zlatan wasn’t on United last season. He was still playing for Paris Saint-Germain.
In other words, he has scored as much in half a season and change as any other Manchester United player since August. And some people actually wondered if he could still be effective in English football at his advanced age.
Still, it was Blackburn that took a bold lead in the 18th minute, as Owen Coyle’s men refused to show much deference to their guests. Marvin Emnes cobbled together a long and winding dribble through the middle, evading Marcos Rojo until he turned back and dispatched a perfect reverse ball into the avenue Danny Graham was running down. The striker’s finish into the far side netting was immaculate.
United got back on level terms before the half hour, courtesy of Marcus Rashford, who, incredibly, is still more than eight months removed from his 20th birthday. Blackburn’s defense opened up on United’s counter. And Henrikh Mkhitaryan hit a marvelous through ball with the outside of his boot for Rashford, who rounded the goalkeeper and rolled in the equalizer.
Man United largely dominated the game. But its chances to score weren’t overly troubling to the Rovers, who collapsed into their own box and made life hard on a Red Devils side defending its title in this tournament.
When the backline pushed high, however, Blackburn was punished. Pogba dropped deep to pick the ball up in his own half, spotted Zlatan making a run and delivered a ball over the top that the Swede could tuck first-time in the far bottom corner.
It was a deserved winner, although Blackburn nearly made amends in the 86th minute. United goalkeeper Sergio Romero spilled a low cross and then patted Emnes’s shot into the path of Anthony Stokes, who poked the ball into the empty net. But he was offside and the goal was rightly disallowed. It was nevertheless an incriminating moment for the Argentine goalie, even if he ultimately got away with it.
And so United advanced to the sixth round, which is actually the quarterfinals. The Red Devils remain on course for a double of domestic cups, since they’ll play in the EFL Cup final against Southampton on Feb. 26.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.