Man United escapes with shootout win after blowing 3-goal lead against Coventry in FA Cup semifinal

LONDON (AP) — It was nearly a comeback for the ages for Coventry. Instead, it ended in another gut-wrenching penalty shootout loss at Wembley for the second-tier team as Manchester United limped into another FA Cup final.

Coventry pulled off one of the most unexpected fightbacks in FA Cup history by rallying from three goals down against United to force extra time after a 3-3 draw in Sunday’s semifinal, only to falter at the end and let Erik ten Hag's team escape with a 4-2 win in the shootout.

Rasmus Hojlund scored the decisive penalty kick to save United from another embarrassing collapse after Callum O'Hare and Ben Sheaf had missed their spot kicks for Coventry.

“It was an incredible game, a strange game too,” Ten Hag said. “We had total control for so long and then gave it away in the last part of the game. We did show resilience to win the penalty shootout.”

It was another heartbreaking ending at Wembley for Coventry, which also lost on penalties to Luton in last year’s Championship playoff final to miss out on promotion to the Premier League.

United's narrow escape sets up a second straight Manchester derby in the final against defending champion Manchester City, which beat Chelsea on Saturday.

But it should never have been this close.

United looked to be cruising toward the final after Bruno Fernades’ deflected shot put them 3-0 up in the 58th minute against a Championship side that had defied the odds just to make the semifinals.

But Coventry is no stranger to comebacks, having scored twice in injury time to beat Wolverhampton in the quarterfinals, and staged an even greater one this time to set off wild celebrations in the sky-blue half of Wembley.

Striker Ellis Simms gave the Championship side a glimmer of hope by sweeping home a cross from Fabio Tavares in the 71st, O’Hare netted the second with the help of a lucky deflection in the 79th and Haji Wright equalized from the penalty spot in the fifth minute of injury time after a handball by Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

United had taken the lead in the 23rd when Scott McTominay had an easy tap-in into an empty net. Harry Maguire then headed in the second from a corner to secure what seemed like a comfortable halftime lead, which soon looked insurmountable after Fernandes’ shot took a deflection to sneak inside the near post for United’s third.

But no lead seems safe for this United side.

This was a second late collapse in a matter of weeks after United gave up two injury-time goals in a 4-3 Premier Leauge loss to Chelsea this month, when Ten Hag called on his team to learn how to close out games. They showed no signs of having learned that lesson, and Coventry came the closest to netting the winner in extra time against a shell-shocked United.

Simms first hit the crossbar with a stinging strike and Victor Torp then thought he had scored the winner in the 120th minute — setting off more wild celebrations by the Coventry players and fans — but it was ruled out by VAR for offside to set up the penalty shootout.

Casemiro missed United's first penalty by shooting straight at goalkeeper Bradley Collins but Andre Onana saved O'Hare's spot kick before Sheaf sent his well over the crossbar.

It saved Ten Hag from another embarrassment and gives United a chance to salvage what has been a disappointing season. United only has an outside chance of qualifying for the Champions League next season and an FA Cup trophy — at rival City's expense — could be the only thing that will convince new minority owner Jim Ratcliffe to keep Ten Hag in charge for next season.

The 71-year-old Ratcliffe was in the stands after running the London Marathon earlier in the day. Watching the last hour of United's performance may have been just as exhausting as the last part of that race.

United's players hardly even celebrated when Hojlund's decisive penalty went in, with only Christian Eriksen running over to celebrate with his fellow Dane. Most of the players remained by the halfway line, almost sheepishly shaking hands with the Coventry players — knowing how close they had come to one of the club's most embarrassing defeats.

“We put ourselves in a difficult position and should have killed it earlier but we didn’t," Fernandes said. "We have to do so much better.”

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer

Mattias Karen, The Associated Press