Goals from Marcus Rashford and substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic helped FA Cup holders Manchester United progress into the quarter-finals of the competition in a hotly-contested battle with Championship strugglers Blackburn Rovers.
Despite an end-to-end affair at Ewood Park, it was the hosts who broke the deadlock after 17 minutes. Marvin Emnes came close with a swerving strike of his own before turning creator to devastating effect. Spinning effortlessly past Marcos Rojo, the Dutchman released a teasing pass into the path of Danny Graham. Chris Smalling found himself a few yards behind the play and was backtracking, leaving the striker to curl home past a helpless Sergio Romero.
Ander Herrera stung the gloves of Jason Steele with a powerful close-range effort but apart from that, the ‘keeper didn’t have much to do in the opening exchanges. This all changed in an instant when Blackburn found themselves open at the back from their own set-piece. Henrikh Mkhitaryan fed the run of Marcus Rashford through the middle and within a flash, he weaved past Steele before slotting into an empty net.
United collectively started slowly but still found themselves level at the half-time break, which could’ve been vastly different had the hosts taken full advantage of their chances. Romero flapped at a looping cross, Ashley Young made an important defensive interception to deny Craig Conway and Charlie Mulgrew was inches away from an effort on goal too before the interval.
The second-half was more of a cagey encounter with both sides aiming to avoid conceding again, whilst looking threatening on the counter-attack. As the minutes passed, you could see José Mourinho and his side becoming increasingly impatient.
A double substitution was made at the hour mark: Pogba and Zlatan came on in place of Lingard and Martial, unsurprisingly welcomed by a chorus of boos from the home supporters. They were involved just seconds after being introduced, as Zlatan was inches away from finishing a well-worked passing move in the area. He came close once more shortly afterward, after an excellent lofted pass by Mkhitaryan. His initial touch cushioned the ball perfectly but he swung wildly and missed the ball completely – before Herrera saw a deflected strike swerve wide of the far post.
Blackburn looked to soak up pressure and hit United on the break, which was proving effective as minutes wore on and tired legs became a factor. Highly-rated youngster Connor Mahoney came on with twenty to play and had an instant impact, leaving Darmian in his wake before seeing his attempted cross blocked for a set-piece.
But United’s quality ultimately shone through and Pogba’s lofted pass into Ibrahimovic saw the experienced Swede strike at the third time of asking – showing composure in the area before converting to give the visitors a slender lead.
Owen Coyle’s side had a goal cruelly disallowed for offside in the dying embers, before Rashford was replaced late on for Juan Mata as United looked to close out the game. Keeping the ball for sustained periods in second-half stoppage time, United were able to comfortably see out the result in a hard-fought victory against a Blackburn side who exceeded expectations given their Championship form this term.
United will now face Chelsea away in the FA Cup quarter-finals.