Manchester United have begun the new year as they left off in December, by barely getting by against opposition they should be miles above.
The Reds avoided catastrophe on Sunday, downing League Two side Newport County 4-2 on the road in the FA Cup fourth round. Early goals had United sitting pretty early, but the hosts fought back to expose the visitors at the back once again, and forcing Erik ten Hag’s side into a fight to the finish.
Erik ten Hag sent out a mostly first-choice starting XI against the lower league side, with Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez returning to action from the start.
#mufc XI vs Newport County: Bayindir, Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Shaw; Casemiro, Mainoo, Fernandes, Antony, Garnacho, Hojlund— utdreport (@utdreport) January 28, 2024
The strength of the team might have led some to believe it would be a comfortable outing for the Reds, reinforced when the opening minutes brought two goals for United. The first was a nice finish by Bruno Fernandes at the top of the box, finishing a move he started by playing in Alejandro Garnacho down the left.
Soon after a chance fell to Kobbie Mainoo in a similar position, and he placed a shot perfectly into the bottom left corner with a first-time hit. Easy.
It wouldn’t be for too much longer though.
United failed to keep up the pressure (surprise, surprise) and Newport would have a couple opportunities to get forward and even test Altay Bayindir in his first start for United.
Then came a moment of brilliance from Bryn Morris, who took a chance on the half-volley to fire at Bayindir’s goal. The shot deflected off of the face of Martinez on its way into the top corner, sending Rodney Parade wild. It was an excellent, and bold, effort, one that can maybe be excused in a cup tie against a team with nothing to lose.
What couldn’t be excused was what followed.
Just after the break, fresh off of a team talk, United allowed the hosts to walk in an equalizer. A ball down the left was unchallenged, allowing a pass into Will Evans at the near post. He finished under pressure from Raphael Varane, with Diogo Dalot stood watching and Bayindir helpless on the save attempt.
United thankfully woke up and went on to win the match, picking up a rebound goal from Antony and a goal from Rasmus Hojlund in stoppage time to wrap things up, but the same inconsistencies in build up persisted that have marred United’s play all season long.
Garnacho didn’t look up for a pass, Hojlund was left ignored by his wingers, Casemiro clattered into people instead of tackling, and the middle of the park remained a zone of chaos when United had the chance to take control.
It was a poor performance from the Reds that would have certainly been punished by a stronger side. Individual moments are not sustainable, and Erik ten Hag has to sort this out before it costs the Reds their season and costs him his job.