Forget the shootout - Man United show need for summer fire sale in spectacular Wembley collapse

Mark Robins is credited as being the man who saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job 34 years ago, but with the now Coventry manager watching on from the sidelines, an altogether more modern entity might just, and only just, have earned the current United boss a stay of execution in extraordinary fashion.

Having seen his Manchester United side throw away a three-goal lead for the first time in 11 years, against a Championship team who had lost three of the previous four games, Coventry thought they had hammered the final nail into Erik ten Hag’s battered coffin, with the most dramatic scene Wembley has seen since its rebuild – a 120th minute winner to seal a spectacular giant-killing of epic proportions.

VAR and those passion-killing lines had other ideas, ruling out Victor Torp’s finish to take the game to penalties, which after the most almighty of reprieves you knew was only going to go one way. As Rasmus Hojlund stroked home the winning spot kick, the majority of United players were almost embarrassed to celebrate and chose to instead head straight over to shake their Coventry counterparts’ hands.

One normal day in the life of Manchester United is all supporters ask. The reward for the fortuitous of semi-final successes? A Manchester City side – the first cup final immediately repeated in successive years since Blackburn Rovers and Queen’s Park in 1895 – who feel like the world is against them. If United play like this, a Roberto Mancini-esque drubbing could be on the way.

Who would have thought running a marathon in four-and-a-half hours, as a 71-year-old, would be Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s least exhausting activity of the day.

The Manchester-born billionaire was not the only top United brass in attendance at Wembley as he took his seat in the Royal Box after arriving at half time, with both Joel and Avram Glazer attending a match together for the first time in five years and new technical Jason Wilcox sat next to former chair David Gill. Sir Dave Brailsford was of course watching on with his all-seeing eye.

Victor Torp thought he’d won the game in extra-time only for the goal to get ruled out for offside (AP)
Victor Torp thought he’d won the game in extra-time only for the goal to get ruled out for offside (AP)

Perhaps the presence of such important decision-makers was just what some players needed to put on the sort of show, in the first half, that could avoid them being on the display table in the expected Old Trafford fire sale this summer.

One of those figures who the new regime could easily dispose of is Scott McTominay, despite scoring a number of crucial goals this season. The Scot did his best to influence Ineos’ thinking, nudging United ahead in the 23rd minute, on the end of a pinpoint Digo Dalot cross, seconds after Ten Hag had come out of his technical area to pull the full-back out wide. A tactical masterstroke, by the Dutchman’s standards this season at least.

Scott McTominay returned to the team and opened the scoring for Manchester United (AP)
Scott McTominay returned to the team and opened the scoring for Manchester United (AP)

Coventry were playing the badge rather the current, chaotic United incumbent, but they still had their moments in the first half, with Dalot’s timely interception saving the Premier League side’s blushes just before the break.

Harry Maguire’s bullet header from a corner could not have been better timed, in first-half stoppage time. It should have put the game to bed there and then, even before Ratcliffe’s limousine had pulled up outside.

The weary part-owner could rest his knees in even more comfort as Bruno Fernandes’s deflected strike surely sealed United’s safe passage to the final for the 22nd time. When Ellis Simms swept home with 19 minutes left it seemed like it was going to be a mere consolation. Even this United circus act couldn’t mess this up from here.

Just as he was against Liverpool a few weeks ago, though, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was the guilty party, handling in the penalty area to gift Coventry a stoppage-time penalty. Only United, supporters groaned. Haji Wright will have never felt pressure like it, but you couldn’t tell as he expertly converted from the spot to send much of the West Midlands into dreamland – the first time United had thrown away a three-goal lead since Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game in charge, as the then champions drew 5-5 with West Brom in a dead rubber clash, in 2013. Wembley was aghast, with United fans greeting the final whistle with a chorus of boos.

United were taken to penalties by Coventry (The FA via Getty Images)
United were taken to penalties by Coventry (The FA via Getty Images)

Fernandes thundered a strike against the underside of the crossbar as United looked to regather their thoughts in extra time, before Simms did exactly the same down the other end. VAR then decided to enter stage left, judging Wright to be offside as Torp scored which, had it been netted five years previous, would have been sure to have been etched into cup folklore, forever.

It appeared United were not going to capitalise on the mother of all lifelines after Casemiro, three yards off the pace all match, saw his tame opening penalty saved, but the record final appearance makers recovered to settle the most remarkable of afternoons.

Ten Hag remains on a knife edge, hanging by a thread. The P45, crucially, remains in Ratcliffe’s drawer, under his marathon medal. For now.