LONDON – Juan Mata’s goal made the difference on Wednesday for Manchester United, who topped Wolverhampton in an FA Cup replay at Old Trafford to advance to the fourth round of the world’s oldest national soccer competition.
After the 0-0 deadlock two weeks ago at Wolverhampton’s Molineux Stadium in the original tie, both teams emphasized offense in the first half of the re-do.
United’s Daniel James forced a stop from Wolves goalkeeper John Ruddy in the early going, while Raul Jimenez squandered a great chance for the visitors by sending the ball straight to home keeper Sergio Romero.
And an unwitting hand ball by Jimenez led to teammate Neto’s goal being called back.
Ruddy made a good play to deny Mata later in the first half after Wolves’ Matt Doherty hit the post.
The intensity carried over into the second half, but efforts at either end by Mata and Jimenez missed the target.
United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a change in the 65th minute, pulling James in favor top striker Marcus Rashford, yet it was Mata who produced the decisive goal two minutes later.
Anthony Martial found the Spaniard alone in front of goal and Mata chipped the ball over Ruddy for the match-winner.
One concern for United as they prepare to face Liverpool next Sunday in the Premier League is the injury that forced Rashford off the pitch after just 15 minutes.
Man United’s next opponent in the FA Cup will be the winner of the 3rd-round replay between Watford and Tranmere Rovers, which had been set for Tuesday but was postponed due to bad weather.
“They are a difficult team, they play in a certain way, they do it very well, and it’s difficult to break them down,” Mata said after the contest with Wolves.
“But today has been a good result for us, we’ve had a good couple of days, and now we’ve got a big one coming (Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday) so hopefully we can keep it up,” the 31-year-old midfielder said.
The Red Devils coach praised the Spaniard.
“Mata is different class, he has the skill and composure … and even the pace to get through there,” Solskjaer said.
“You can see there were two teams that were tired. End to end, an open game, we wanted to control the game. But you don’t get an easier draw in the next round if you win 4-0, so 1-0 is enough,” the Norwegian said.