Bruno Fernandes’s added-time goal for Manchester United crowned a scintillating comeback after this tie exploded on 70 minutes via a close‑to-surreal passage that featured three red cards in 40 seconds for Fulham: their manager, Marco Silva, plus Aleksandar Mitrovic and Willian.
At this juncture the visitors were leading 1-0 but it was all change as United emerged from what followed in the lead and heading for the last four of the FA Cup.
Fulham, down to nine men and no manager, were shell-shocked and United sucker-punched them ruthlessly. Sancho, again, was key. His slide-rule ball to Luke Shaw was as good as the left-back’s cross and when Marcel Sabitzer slid home from near-in Old Trafford went ballistic and Erik ten Hag’s men, muted until this phase, had somehow booked a semi-final berth against Brighton at Wembley next month.
In all of this United may be deemed lucky but there is a grit and quality to this team that refuses to concede defeat and today they proved it again by refusing to panic, then engineering the chance to kill off Fulham. And they did so without the suspended Casemiro or the injured Alejandro Garnacho, Raphaël Varane, Christian Eriksen, and Anthony Martial: Fernandes’s late blaze past Leno was the proverbial cherry on the cake, and sets up an enticing showdown with Roberto De Zerbi’s progressive Brighton in the semi-final.
Fulham, who last reached that juncture of the competition in 2002, were the brighter lights until their downfall. A David De Gea tip over of Issa Diop’s header led to Andreas Pereira taking a corner and Silva’s fury began: a blatant Shaw shove on Mitrovic went unpunished by Kavanagh when a penalty was the apt tariff: Silva’s verdict that this was “obvious” was unarguable.
Tim Ream’s diagonal ball from the left swept before De Gea to safety. An Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s defence-splitter sent Fernandes charging along the right but his delivery, aimed at Sancho, was taken by Leno. Harry Maguire, making only a second consecutive start of the term, wrestled Mitrovic over and was booked. Pereira took the resulting free-kick short, to Ream, and the Fulham captain slashed his pass straight out. And a Marcus Rashford chip went close to allowing Wout Weghorst to connect, provoking a Ten Hag head-clutch.
A lull followed before Fernandes’s slide-tackle allowed United to whirl the ball along the left through Sabitzer and Rashford and Fulham scrambled to stymie the threat.
Then, at last Leno, had to deal with a fierce effort from the home team – a Sabitzer piledriver warmed the goalkeeper’s fingers and the period closed with a rat-a-tat United sequence. Lisandro Martínez blazed the ball to Weghorst whose instanct touch-off to Sancho was mirrored by the No 25, who found a lurking Scott McTominay: he unloaded and Ream blocked.
Fulham, as the visitors, could be happier at the interval and twin De Gea saves from Willian when the sides changed ends further charged their mood. Even better ensued when the corner from the second of these was hit over by Pereira: Diop steered the ball on and in a melee Mitrovic reacted quicker than Shaw and scored.
United had to wake quickly so Rashford roved downfield and fed Fernandes but his snap-shot skidded wide. Ten Hag’s men were in a quasi-Rip van Winkle mode so he swapped McTominay for Antony to try to awaken them. Yet when Fernandes forced a corner the same player dropped the deadball plum in Leno’s hands.
Fulham continued to appear heading to knock their host out. The latest Pereira deadball was steered goalwards by Mitrovic and required De Gea acrobatics to palm around the right post.
Now, the home congregation upped the volume and United responded with the move that caused the madness of the three sendings off. Antony sprinted along a right channel and tapped the ball sideways to Sancho. The No 25 beat Leno, put Harrison Reed on his backside, shot, Willian intervened, and from here Fulham fell apart.
After Fernandes’s 96th-minute finish, Ten Hag could reflect on a second Wembley date in two months – following February’s triumphant Carabao Cup final.
“We are in the position we want to be, but trophies are won at the end of the season,” the Dutchman said.
“This team has great character. We are mentally and physically fit, and I’m happy with our progress as a team. I am happy and pleased with the performance but I see a lot of room for improvement.”