LONDON, April 23, (AFP): French forward Anthony Martial scored a nerveless stoppage-time winner as Manchester United edged Everton 2-1 at Wembley on Saturday to reach their first FA Cup final since 2007. Martial set up Marouane Fellaini to score against his former club in the 34th minute, but after United goalkeeper David de Gea had superbly saved a penalty from Romelu Lukaku, Chris Smalling’s 75th-minute own goal looked to have sent the semi-final to extra time.
Martial, however, had other ideas, the £36 million ($51.9 million, 46.2 million euros) close-season signing from Monaco charging into the box and finishing coolly to preserve manager Louis van Gaal’s hopes of ending a difficult season by orchestrating United’s first FA Cup success since 2004.
United will be favourites in the May 21 final, when they will encounter either Crystal Palace or Watford, and Van Gaal will also hope that Martial’s late strike serves to give his side a lift in their quest for Champions League qualification.
But while Van Gaal can look forward to a return trip to England’s national stadium next month, his beaten counterpart Roberto Martinez faces a bleak future, the FA Cup having represented his last hope of salvaging Everton’s season.
Everton skipper Phil Jagielka overcame a hamstring injury to start at centre-back, but the absence of Seamus Coleman obliged midfielder Muhamed Besic to slot in at right-back in a defence that quickly found itself under examination.
With Wayne Rooney dictating the play from a deep midfield role and a front three of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard flitting around like mosquitoes, United created a stream of chances before unsurprisingly taking the lead.
Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles had already saved from Lingard, Rashford and Rooney, while Marcos Rojo had glanced a header wide and Martial had blazed over, by the time the latter powered to the left-hand byline and cut the ball back for Fellaini to trundle a shot home at the near post.
But although United seemed to have set up semi-permanent camp in the opposing half, Lukaku had spurned two clear chances for Everton before his side fell behind, with one effort cleared off the line by Rooney and the other comfortably blocked by De Gea.
The Belgian’s aim did not improve in the second half.
After exchanging passes with Aaron Lennon, Ross Barkley was just about to shoot from the left-hand edge of the six-yard box when Timothy Fosu-Mensah came through him to take the ball.
Referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot, but Lukaku’s firm penalty towards the bottom-left corner was brilliantly palmed wide by De Gea.
United were rattled and Everton looked to capitalise, with Tom Cleverley slamming Lennon’s cross wide and then crossing for Lukaku to head over.
United might have won a penalty of their own moments later, when Fellaini’s close-range effort was prevented from crossing the line by the diving Jagielka’s right arm, but Taylor did not see it and within minutes Everton were level.
Gerard Deulofeu had only been on the pitch for five minutes when he whipped a cross into the United box from the right and saw Smalling slice it past a startled De Gea at his near post.
At that stage, Everton looked the more likely side to prevail, with De Gea thwarting Deulofeu and Lukaku heading wide.
But in the third and final minute of stoppage time, Martial charged infield from the left, played a one-two with substitute Ander Herrera and then steered home to send the United end into raptures.
City 4, Stoke 0
In Manchester, Manchester City enjoyed the perfect preparation for their Champions League semi-final showdown against Real Madrid with a 4-0 thrashing of Stoke City at Eastlands on Saturday.
Goals from Fernando, Sergio Aguero, via the penalty spot, and a second-half Kelechi Iheanacho double left City in buoyant mood before Cristiano Ronaldo and company arrive in Manchester.
With the first-leg visit of Real for one of the biggest matches in City’s history just four days away, manager Manuel Pellegrini left Kevin De Bruyne on the substitutes’ bench, left out Fernandinho and didn’t risk a second game inside a week for captain Vincent Kompany.
Raheem Sterling was also an unused substitute but the selection did not backfire as City climbed back to third place after securing the Premier League points they needed to move closer to a guaranteed top-four finish and Champions League football again next season.
With De Bruyne among those held back for Europe, teenage forward Iheanacho was given a fourth league start of the season.
And he was only inches away from a fourth league goal as City made a positive start, collecting a pass from Aguero before curling a low shot just wide from 20 yards.
With the fit-again David Silva always prominent before he made way with an hour under his belt following two games out with his on-going ankle problem, City looked as though they were keen to get their business done early to avoid over-exerting themselves ahead of next Tuesday’s big night.
But Stoke, looking to complete a league double over City for the first time since 1980-81 following a 2-0 home win in December, mounted a brief threat themselves.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes, who spent 18 months in charge of City up to December 2009, had asked his players for a response to a run of just one win in six games which had all but ended their hopes of a place in next season’s Europa League.
And after 15 minutes Glenn Whelan almost caught out Joe Hart with a long-range free-kick which the City goalkeeper pushed over the bar for a corner, from which visiting captain Ryan Shawcross volleyed just wide.
Joselu also headed a chance wide and it was almost against the run of play when City went 1-0 up 10 minutes before half-time when Jesus Navas delivered a corner to the near post, where Fernando arrived perfectly to glance a header beyond Shay Given to claim his second goal of the season.
That eased the pressure and when City doubled their lead from the penalty spot three minutes later it was virtually game over.
City’s forward movement was a constant problem for Stoke’s defence and after Shawcross pulled back the elusive Iheanacho, Aguero converted his 23rd league goal of the season to move one behind the total of Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.
Aguero didn’t get the chance to add to his tally as he was also withdrawn from the firing line after 64 minutes to avoid any possible late injury scares.
And by then City were 3-0 up as Iheanacho got on the scoresheet as Pellegrini was preparing to make a change.
Pablo Zabaleta, making his 300th appearance for City, charged down the right flank and his pull-back was perfectly weighted for Iheanacho to side-foot home his 10th goal of the season past Jakob Haugaard.
Haugaard had replaced the injured Given, who was 40 on Wednesday, at the break and had earlier saved from Iheanacho and Yaya Toure.
Stoke also had their chances at 2-0 but a bad miss from Joselu and Joe Hart’s fine save from Marko Arnautovic snuffed out any chance of a comeback before Iheanacho completed City’s win with another assured finish, rounding Haugaard to slot home 16 minutes from the end.