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Man United boss Erik ten Hag claims rocky FA Cup semifinal win over Coventry City ‘not an embarrassment’

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag attempted to downplay his team’s shortcomings on Sunday when it took a penalty shootout to defeat Coventry City after relinquishing a three-goal lead in the FA Cup semifinals.

The Red Devils took a three-goal lead in the 58th minute but conceded three times to the Championship side in the final 20 minutes of the game, including a stoppage-time penalty scored by U.S. men’s national team forward Haji Wright. Coventry also came close to scoring on multiple occasions during extra time but failed to do so, allowing United to edge them out on penalties.

“I can’t see that word,” he said post-match, per Sky Sports, when a member of the media described the performance as embarrassing. “At the end of the day, it’s about the achievement. I see the mistakes we make. We can’t look away from it but it’s not an embarrassment. As I say, it’s a huge achievement.”

Ten Hag suggested he was happy with the performance considering the “setbacks” United have faced all season, speaking chiefly of the season-long injury crisis that has plagued them all season. That included Sunday’s match, when Casemiro lined up as a center back alongside Harry Magure as several more naturally suited players missed out.

Sunday’s outing against Coventry, though, was the latest low point in a season full of lows for United, even though they came out victorious. United had 60.5% possession and 14 shots to Coventry’s two by the time they went up 3-0 in the 58th minute, courtesy of Bruno Fernandes. They essentially took their foot off the gas and invited the second-division side back into the game rather than close it out as expected — Coventry had a slight edge in possession from the 59th minute until the end of regular time and outshot United nine to three. United regained control of possession and shot-taking in extra time but Coventry edged them out on expected goals by a margin of 1.33 to 0.53.

Despite United’s failure to maintain a grip on a match they should have seen out with ease, ten Hag was defiant post-match. He pointed out that United will play in back-to-back FA Cup finals under him and suggested that he is doing better than some of his predecessors in that category. Ten Hag also hit out at the referees in charge of United’s last several games since his team conceded four penalties in their last four games saying, “It looks like it’s a curse against us.”

“Today, 3-3 — that’s absolutely crazy, that decision,” ten Hag said of Coventry’s penalty. “When there is consistency, then we should get a penalty to make it 4-3 as well, and that was more a handball than the penalty we concede and that happens also, lately, many times. It was Chelsea [who] had two crazy penalties, it was Liverpool whose penalty was also very debatable so that happens also and it looks like it’s a curse against us.”

The victory will likely ensure that ten Hag will stay in charge through the end of the season but has done little to dispel chatter that he will be out of a job once the season is over. They rank high amongst teams in Europe’s top five leagues for shots conceded during the 2023-24 campaign, something that should not have been relevant during the FA Cup semifinal against a Championship team. Despite keeping them at bay for an hour, they ultimately allowed 18 total shots on Sunday and conceded three times, demonstrating an extraordinary ability to crumble under pressure even though ten Hag publicly is unconcerned about the pattern.

United have now failed to keep a clean sheet in their last six games and though they have scored 15 goals during that stretch, they have conceded just as many goals in that time. As a season of ups and downs continues at United, it is hard to see them quitting with only a handful of games left on the calendar. That could be bad news for their Champions League hopes, since they sit 16 points behind fourth-place Aston Villa, even with two games in hand. It might also cost them in the FA Cup final when they face Manchester City as they try to end their season on a high with both a Premier League title and another cup triumph.

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