Odion Ighalo’s dream of lifting the FA Cup with Manchester United was dashed on Sunday as the Red Devils succumbed to a 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the semifinal at Wembley.
All four of the Nigerian’s starts have come in Cup competitions where he has scored on each occasion but manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer elected to leave him on the bench and United duly paid the price.
Chelsea will take on Arsenal in the final on 1 August in an all London affair after the Gunners dumped United’s neighbours Manchester City out of the competition with a 2-0 win in the first semi’s on Saturday.
United were lethargic from the start and struggled to string passes together as Chelsea who had 48 extra hours to prepare for the game pressed and harried the Red Devils into making errors.
The Blues’ extra sharpness paid dividends after Oliver Giroud cleverly got goalside of Victor Lindelof in the 45th-minute to meet Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross with his outstretched boot to send the ball trickling past David De Gea who had started in place of regular cup keeper Sergio Romero.
A nasty injury to Eric Bailly saw 11 additional minutes in the first half but the Blues went into the break full value for their lead.
If De Gea could have been excused for Giroud’s goal, the Spaniard had no excuses for Chelsea’s second as his meek attempt to stop Mason Mount’s only diverted the ball into the goal just a minute after the restart.
It was the latest in a litany of errors that has besieged the once-impregnable stopper and will further fuel calls for Dean Henderson who is on loan at Sheffield United to be recalled ahead of next season.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of United who had been second-best all through and it got worse for the Red Devils after captain Harry Maguire diverted into his net in the 74th-minute under pressure from Anthony Rudiger.
Ighalo came on five minutes later as United belatedly found some urgency and attempted to mount a comeback.
Substitute Anthony Martial won a penalty which was converted by Bruno Fernandes four minutes from time, but the Blues were never in any danger of giving up their lead and they held on to hand the Red Devils a first defeat in 20 games.
United’s hopes of a domestic trophy in Solskjaer first full season are at an end but the Red Devils can still claim silverware in the Europa League where they are all but through to the quarterfinals.
The Red Devils can now concentrate on sealing a top-four finish and are well-placed after Leicester City who they are level on points with but have a game in hand on, lost to Tottenham on Sunday. United who play Leicester in the season finale, will climb above the Foxes if they avoid defeat when they host West Ham United on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Frank Lampard has a glorious chance of marking his first season in charge of the Blues with a trophy as does his final opponent Mikel Arteta who only took charge of the Gunners last December.