TWO CLINICAL strikes from Romelu Lukaku dashed Huddersfield Town’s hopes of a second famous win over Manchester United in the space of the season - on a night when the controversial topic of video assistant referees (VAR) reared its head again.
With United leading 1-0 thanks to deadly third-minute finish from Lukaku, it looked they had added an undeserved second moments before the break through Juan Mata, only for referee Kevin Friend to pull play back and consult video assistant referee Neil Swarbrick to check whether Mata had been in an offside position when he received the ball.
After a long delay and with the technology looking far from full proof, the goal was chalked off despite replays seeming to show that Mata was level with last defender Chris Schindler - with Swarbrick indicating that Mata was ‘leaning offside’.
But there was no doubting United’s second ten minutes after the break from Lukaku - his 21st of the season - after the visitors produced a deadly counter-attack.
Seeking a first quarter final appearance since 1971-72 and a first FA Cup win over United since February 1924, Town had their moments, especially in a vibrant first-half, but the visitors produced the two pieces of quality that mattered.
With one eye on the first leg of their key Champions League assignment in Seville next week, Mourinho was pragmatic in terms of his selection, resting some of his big-hitters, including David De Gea and Phil Jones, but fielding two of his big guns up top in Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez.
As the rain poured down incessantly ahead of kick-off, the Red Devils were entitled to cast his mind back to that turbulent autumnal afternoon when United were battered by the elements and a pumped-up Town side.
That didn’t escape the attentions of Mouninho, who was a very visible presence in this technical area in the early sparings, watching his players intently like a hawk, but his mood was likely to have been eased by a third-minute opener.
It bore the mark of high-class and was not in keeping with United’s largely unconvincing first-half efforts, but nevertheless, it was a well-executed finish.
Lukaku was released by an incisive pass from Mata and after cutting inside home captain Chris Schindler, the £75m man steered the low past Jonas Lossl at his near post for a well-taken opener.
Any fears that the visitors might proceed to dominate proved groundless, with Town producing a response of assertion and character, with the visitors’ unconvincing defensive tendencies flaring up on occasions.
Town held sway, with Tom Ince going desperately to drawing Wagner’s side level on two occasions.
First, he latched onto a pinpoint pass with Philip Billing and found plenty of space down the left channel, but saw his low shot flash inches wide when very well placed.
Then, he just failed to get a touch on a delicious low cross from Florent Habergjonaj down the right.
Sergio Romero fielded efforts from Danny Williams and Billing, with Town’s zest and aggression prominent, with Lukaku and Sanchez largely kept in check at the other end.
Still, United led, although Mourinho would have justifiably been expecting a bit more.
That could and perhaps should have arrived just before the interval in a moment which again exposed the considerable teething troubles of the VAR system and problems in its application.
Mata latched onto Ashley Young’s slick pass after Town were momentarily exposed down their left and rounded Lossl and tucked the ball home, only for play to be brought back and Friend consult Swarbrick.
Replays seemed to indicate that Mata looked level with Schindler, but after a lengthy delay, the goal was disallowed.
That said, it could not perhaps be disputed that Town did merit their touch of fortune after dominating much of the half.
Town carried on from where they left off in a first half full of zip on the restart, with Van La Parra failing to control the ball when well placed after Ince’s free-kick deflected invitingly into his path.
The pressure continued with Billing spurning another good free-kick chance before United produced their second top-drawer break on the night to book their last-eight passage.
With Huddersfield caught with bodies upfield, United picked their moment and broke away with the hitherto anonymous Sanchez sending Lukaku away on the halfway line and he galloped clearly before clinically firing the ball low past Lossl.
The goal took the sting out of the bubbly hosts and United proceeded to play the rest of the game out largely on their terms in a wholly comfortable final hour not in keeping with the opening 55 minutes.
Huddersfield Town: Huddersfield: Lossl, Hadergjonaj (Smith 70), Schindler, Zanka, Kongolo (Malone 70), Billing, Williams, Van La Parra (Sabiri 84), Ince, Quaner, Mounie. Substitutes unused: Coleman, Whitehead, Hogg, Delpoitre.
Manchester United: Romero, Young, Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw, Matic, Carrick, McTominay, Mata (Lingard 81), Lukaku (Bailly 90), Sanchez (Martial 75). Substitutes unused: Pereira, Darmian, Gomes, Hamilton.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).