On a weekend that will go down in the history books with the great FA Cup giant killings, Blackburn Rovers fell just short of writing their name alongside Lincoln City and Millwall.
Danny Graham’s early strike gave Rovers’ a 1-0 lead and the upset was on, but a ruthless Manchester United side struck back quickly through Marcus Rashford.
Second half substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic grabbed his fourth goal in as many days to ensure Jose Mourinho’s blushes would be spared at the end of a frantic weekend of cup football.
Mourinho will now return to Stamford Bridge for a fiery FA Cup quarter final clash with Chelsea – not before taking his side to Wembley for next week’s EFL Cup Final against Southampton.
It was a rare bumper crowd during these turbulent times at Ewood Park, Owen Coyle’s men went into the tie precariously occupying 23rd place in the Championship.
United looked disjointed early on, as the seven changes rung by Mourinho showed ahead of next week’s final.
The opening exchanges were subdued, but in the 15th minute Marvin Emnes sparked the tie into life as his shot stung the palms of Sergio Romero.
Just a minute later the roof was lifted off Ewood Park as the livewire Emnes poked a ball through to Graham who despatched his shot beyond Romero and into the far corner.
The goal seemed to spark the visitors into life and nine minutes later Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s sumptuous ball split the Blackburn defence in half – before Rashford rounded goalkeeper Luke Steele and tapped home his seventh of the season.
Mourinho said Ibrahimovic and record signing Paul Pogba were on the bench ‘in case of emergency’ and he sounded the sirens on the hour mark as the pair replaced the ineffective Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.
There was nearly an instant impact as Pogba’s ball found Ander Herrera whose effort flashed across the face of goal – and inches past the outstretched boot of Ibrahimovic.
On 75 minutes United’s pressure and experience told, Pogba’s long ball found his partner in crime and the Swedish striker slotted past Steele in a composed fashion.
“Jose’s playing the way that United should” rang out from the jubilant away end – this was proven perfectly as their side saw out the final 15 minutes without real event, only Anthony Stokes’ offside effort troubled the visitors late on.
This team are looking every bit as efficient as the great Mourinho sides of recent years.
Blackburn: Steele, Lowe, Greer, Lenihan, Williams, Feeney (Mahoney, 73), Guthrie (Tomlinson, 81), Mulgrew, Conway, Emnes and Graham. Subs not used: Hendrie, Nyambe, Brown and Raya.
Manchester United: Romero, Young, Smalling, Rojo, Darmian, Carrick, Herrera, Lingard (Pogba, 62), Mkhitaryan, Martial (Ibrahimovic, 62) and Rashford (Mata, 89). Subs not used: Bailly, Shaw, Schweinsteiger and Henderson.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Attendance: 23,130 (7283)