Ander Herrera’s winner saturday sent Manchester United into a record-equalling 20th FA Cup final and condemned Tottenham to their eighth successive defeat at this stage of the competition.
Spurs started at a ferocious pace at Wembley and fully deserved the early lead they took after only 11 minutes when Dele Alli slid home a finish from Christian Eriksen’s cross after Davinson Sanchez’s long pass opened up Manchester United’s defence.
Jose Mourinho’s side survived the siege and levelled on 24 minutes, Wembley specialist Alexis Sanchez rising to direct an athletic header across Spurs keeper Michel Vorm from Paul Pogba’s perfect cross for his eighth goal in eight appearances at the stadium.
Eric Dier’s deflected shot hit the post on the stroke of half-time but Spurs had lost vital momentum and Herrera’s crisp low finish just after the hour set up an FA Cup final date for United with Chelsea or Southampton on May 19.
It left Spurs suffering more FA Cup semi-final pain and with a losing sequence stretching back to their win in the last four against Arsenal here in 1991 – and Pochettino still without a trophy after four seasons at the club.
Manchester United’s style has been criticised on a number of levels this season – but the character and resilience in Jose Mourinho’s side is beyond question.
In recent weeks alone, they have come from behind to beat Chelsea at Old Trafford then recovered from 2-0 deficits to win at Crystal Palace and, most notably, at Premier League champions Manchester City. And they needed to call on all those reserves in the face of an opening salvo from Spurs that was fierce in its intensity and pressing, as well as bringing that opening goal from Dele Alli.
United held on, with moments of good fortune, and grasped the lifeline that came with a cheap concession of possession from Spurs, a perfect cross from Paul Pogba and an athletic header from Sanchez to beat Michel Vorm in the 24th minute.
Spurs were still left cursing their luck when Eric Dier’s shot deflected off Chris Smalling to hit the foot of the post – and when ruthlessness and a clinical edge was required it was United who provided it. It came courtesy of Ander Herrera’s low finish and gave United an advantage they never seriously looked like relinquishing.
Mourinho, now on course for another trophy after lifting the League Cup and Europa League in his first season at Manchester United last term, prides himself on his ability to inject the strengths winners require into his players. And his Manchester United players showed that at Wembley.
Tottenham must wonder when they will ever win another FA Cup semi-final – or indeed be rewarded with a trophy for all the obvious fine work manager Mauricio Pochettino has done. This was their eighth successive FA Cup semi-final defeat, the longest sequence of losses in the history of the competition and stretching back to the victory over Arsenal at the old Wembley in 1991.
And as expectations rise and Pochettino’s side progresses, so those losses get more painful and this will feel as bad as any others coming after the way they also lost here to Chelsea 12 months ago.
The usual “Spursy” argument will be made – the team that somehow never gets across the line – and there will come a point when this undoubtedly talented side must back up the bouquets it gets with actual trophies, the true currency of success.
Pochettino’s side flew out of the blocks but simply could not put United away and there was an air of desperation and frustration about their work once Herrera put Mourinho’s side in front and time started to ebb away.
Questions must also be asked of Pochettino’s decision to persist with Michel Vorm in goal and keep first-choice Hugo Lloris on the bench. It is harsh to place defeat solely at Vorm’s door but he certainly could have done better with Herrera’s winner.
Harry Kane could not find his usual sure touch and Son Heung-min, superb this season, had one of those days when nothing went right. The wait goes on without a trophy for both Spurs and Pochettino, who has now had four full seasons at the club.