London: Romelu Lukaku scored twice as Manchester United beat Huddersfield Town 2-0 to advance into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Saturday despite fresh controversy surrounding the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system.
United suffered a setback before kick-off at Huddersfield when France midfielder Paul Pogba withdrew on the day of the game due to illness. United manager Jose Mourinho also saw his team have a "goal" ruled out by VAR in the first game his club had played under the experimental system.
But Mourinho' s men opened the scoring as early as the third minute, an ideal start as they looked to exorcise the memories of their Premier League defeat at the same ground in October. It was a goal as simple as it was effective as Lukaku received a pass from Nemanja Matic and laid it off, quickly, to Juan Mata.
The Spanish midfielder was equally perceptive in playing through a return pass for Lukaku who chased it into the area, switched feet to put his marker Christopher Schindler out of the game, and curled a perfect finish into the far corner of the Huddersfield goal. Lukaku`s second goal, in the 55th minute, was similar but, if anything, even more impressive as the Belgian picked up the ball deep in his own half and set off upfield, outpacing his markers.
After a pass to Alexis Sanchez, and a stunning return ball from the United 'newboy' , Lukaku continued to outpace the entire Town defence before converting his 21st goal of the season from just inside the area. After a week of controversy concerning Pogba`s future at Old Trafford, the goals were a perfect antidote to the speculation -- or 'lies' as Mourinho had labelled it.
Pogba had failed to travel for the tie, reporting sick on the morning of the game and leading United to take the highly unusual step of making an official announcement that he would be unavailable due to illness. But, with that issue put to bed for the time being, it quickly became apparent that Lukaku`s early goal was to be an important one as David Wagner`s Huddersfield team responded impressively.
In fact, within moments, they should have been level as Phil Billing found Tom Ince behind the United back-line and the midfielder sent a low-cross shot inches beyond the far post. It was against the run of play, therefore, that United thought they had scored a second goal in the final minute of the first half after Ashley Young sped down the right and crossed for Mata.
He skilfully gathered the ball and rounded keeper Jonas Lossl before tapping into the open goal, only to see referee Kevin Friend seek clarification from VAR official Neil Swarbrick. After a lengthy delay, during which rival managers Mourinho and Wagner chatted amiably, the VAR ruled that Mata was 'leaning offside' and disallowed the 'goal'.
Huddersfield looked intent on making the most of their reprieve and, early after the restart, an Ince free-kick deflected off the wall and sat up invitingly for Rajiv van La Parra, who miscued his attempted volley on the six-yard line. The impressive Chris Smalling was also soon called into action, blocking well as Terence Kongolo`s shot threatened United' s goal.
Billing then had a shot strike the United wall and an effort deflected wide from the rebound. The second goal, understandably, damaged Huddersfield`s belief although Billing`s powerful shot forced United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into his first action for some time after 72 minutes and Steve Mounie just missed the target with an 89th-minute bicycle kick.