United's treble dreams came to an end against Portsmouth at Old Trafford on Saturday. But how this FA Cup quarter final tie ended in anything other than a Reds victory is a mystery. Call it fate, luck (or lack of it), this simply wasn’t United’s day.
Pompey snatched victory with a 78th-minute penalty, resulting in a red card for Tomasz Kuszczak and Rio Ferdinand pulling on the goalkeeper jersey. But it was so ridiculously against the run of play that it very nearly constituted daylight robbery.
The Reds can feel a deep sense of frustration. And injustice, too. Cristiano Ronaldo was denied a clear penalty after seven minutes, one of many refereeing decisions that Sir Alex Ferguson has every right to feel aggrieved with.
The United boss made three changes to the team that beat Lyon in midweek, calling on Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez – not at all bad replacements. The only downside was Louis Saha’s late withdrawal from the bench with an injury, Ji-sung Park taking his place. No matter which team Sir Alex selects, it bears the usual United hallmarks, and the Reds began with clear intent: this competition is more than a passing interest.
After just seven minutes United should have been in front. Rooney’s glorious cross-field pass found Ronaldo, whose first-time touch took him clear of Niko Kranjcar. Darting into the box he shifted the ball away from Sylvain Distin, who clattered into him. Clear bodycheck. Clear penalty. Referee Martin Atkinson saw it differently. The sense of injustice was keenly felt around the ground. And when Papa Bouba Diop tugged the Portuguese shirt, it was a deserved booking. It was scant consolation.
Portsmouth, with Nwankwo Kanu as a lone striker, clearly saw their midfield as key to stifling United and penetrating the Reds' defence. Edwin van der Sar was given his first taste of action on 15 minutes, when Kranjcar tested him with a swerving effort from 25