Report: Tranmere 0 United 6
Manchester United sailed into the last 16 of the Emirates FA Cup with an emphatic 6-0 away win over Tranmere Rovers, flying out of the traps with five first-half goals and finishing the afternoon with six different names on the scoresheet.
First goals for the club from Harry Maguire and Diogo Dalot were followed by efforts from Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones and Anthony Martial, all before the break, and then a penalty by Mason Greenwood in the second period as the Reds ruthlessly ensured the 60 places between the two teams in the league pyramid was reflected on the pitch.
The United players signalled Ole’s intent from the kick-off, when six of them eagerly stood on the halfway line as Lee Mason’s whistle got the proceedings under way. And even though the excited hosts predictably piled forward in the opening minutes to forge both the first corner and first shot on target – from Connor Jennings, comfortably saved by Sergio Romero - the Reds soon took total control of the contest.
If Maguire was supposed to be a key figure in defence, few would have anticipated him joining the attack in the way he did after 10 minutes. The centre-back surged forward and, receiving a routine square pass from Victor Lindelof, smashed an unstoppable rising (and slightly deflected) right-foot shot beyond the despairing dive of his opposing captain, goalkeeper Scott Davies.
It was a memorable first United goal for Maguire and the perfect start for Solskjaer’s men, after a tough week that started on the other side of the River Mersey from Prenton Park. And if the identity of the first scorer surprised supporters and bookmakers alike, then the source of United’s second goal was similarly unlikely.
Dalot, to date, had not scored for the club either but he broke that duck in style in just the 13th minute of this match. After playing a one-two with Martial, he ferried the ball into the box, chopped back onto his right foot and fired a clinical shot across Davies.
Maguire, our attacker extraordinaire all of a sudden, created the next goal soon after, driving forward and feeding Lingard, who only needed a couple of touches at the edge of the box to set himself for a bending effort into the bottom right.
In rare flashes at the other end of the rutted pitch, Corey Blackett-Taylor despatched a couple of dangerous crosses from the left, turning Dalot to roll an inviting one across the six-yard box and having a later attempt coolly cut out by the chest of Matic. But Rovers were really unable to provide Romero with any moments of serious concern, or give anyone inside the ground any indication they were going to spring another cup surprise.
Lingard could have doubled his tally in the 33rd minute as he arrived in the box to meet a Luke Shaw delivery but a bobble deceived him and the Rovers fans behind the goal, at least for now, escaped further misery. Instead of Jesse, it was Jones who put the Reds 4-0 up. The centre-back leaped higher than his marker at the far post to meet Andreas Pereira’s left-wing corner and head powerfully past the helpless Davies for his first goal since 2014.
Just when we were beginning to wonder when United last scored so many times without the recognised strikers being amongst the goals, Martial stepped up to mark his 200th appearance for the club with a fine strike that deserves to go in his video scrapbook. The Frenchman was initially threatening to do it all by himself after cutting in from the left wing. but a moment’s pause, to lay off the ball to Shaw, proved helpful in creating the space he needed to whip a deflected shot past the rooted Davies.
With the game all but won and another knockout tie on the horizon – Wednesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Manchester City – Solskjaer made two substitutions for the start of the second half, resting Martial and Matic, to bring on Tahith Chong and Fred. The manager later introduced Williams so Maguire could keep energy in his tank for that next test at the Etihad Stadium.
Chong soon seized his chance to make an impression, by charging into the penalty area and drawing a clumsy foul from Davies, who tried to clear with his feet but proceeded to clip the legs of our no.44. Lee Mason’s mind was made up instantly and seconds after he pointed to the spot, another Mason – Greenwood – sent the Tranmere keeper the wrong way and tapped the ball in for 6-0.
At this point, the previously shell-shocked home fans found their singing voices again and raised their volume to levels rarely heard since the early flurry of United goals. They were determined to at least make a contest of it in the stands, against the vocal 2,200 backing the Reds in The Cowshed End.
Dalot had a stinging effort beaten away by Davies at the near post, Chong drilled a shot against the keeper’s legs and Lingard’s curler just clipped the outside of the woodwork as the goal-hungry Reds sought an elusive seventh. Tranmere’s fans, meanwhile, were kept waiting for a consolation strike when a direct free-kick sailed over the crossbar and substitute Rushian Hepburn-Murphy fired wide with Romero at full stretch.
Chong remained determined to register his first senior goal for the club, but his left-foot firecracker unfortunately rattled the bar instead of finding the back of the net in front of the jubilant United faithful.
The scoring pattern therefore remained heavily weighted in favour of that fantastic first 45 minutes, when the Reds blew away any worries about the state of the pitch, and the giant-killing status of our hosts. Roll on Monday evening's draw for the fifth round.
Tranmere Rovers: Davies (c); Caprice, Clarke, Monthe, Ridehalgh; Danns, Perkins (Gilmour 65); Morris, Jennings, Blackett-Taylor (Hepburn-Murphy 74); Ferrier (Mullin 74).
Subs not used: Pilling, Woods, Wilson, Payne.
United: Romero; Dalot, Lindelof, Maguire (c) (Williams 64), Jones, Shaw; Matic (Fred 45), Andreas, Lingard; Martial (Chong 45), Greenwood.
Subs not used: Grant, Bailly, Mata, James.
Goals: Maguire 10, Dalot 13, Lingard 16, Jones 41, Martial 45, Greenwood pen. 56.