Roy Keane admitted Fulham hit the self-destruct button as hopes of reaching their FA Cup semi-final since 2002 went up in smoke with the red mist descending in defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Marco Silva’s side looked on course for a famous FA Cup win after taking the lead five minutes into the second half at Old Trafford when Issa Diop flicked on Andrea Pereira’s corner to allow Aleksandar Mitrovic to fire home from close range.
But the game completely changed just before the 70th minute when Antony broke down the right and squared the ball for Jadon Sancho. He rounded Bernd Leno and then shot towards goal with Willian blocking on the line before replays showed he had blocked the shot with his hand.
The wheels came off as manager Marco Silva, Willian and Mitrovic were all sent off during an astonishing 90-second period which turned the contest on its head.
Keane told ITV Sport: “It was a case of self-destruction from Fulham, particularly with the incident for the penalty – the reaction of the managers and the players.
“Obviously, it’s an emotional game and we’ve all been there. It was a mad 90 seconds that’s cost them the game.”
Silva was sent off for something he said to referee Chris Kavanagh as he came over to check the monitor. Kavanagh then signalled for a penalty and showed a red card to Willian.
An angry Mitrovic confronted and remonstrated with Kavanagh and got his own marching orders, to leave Fulham down to nine and without a manager.
Mitrovic took some time to leave the field and had to be calmed down by several of his Fulham team-mates before eventually leaving the pitch.
Bruno Fernandes sent Leno the wrong way to level the scores, with Marcel Sabitzer adding a second soon after, before Fernandes added a third deep into stoppage time.
“It wasn’t necessarily about Manchester United winning but more a case of Fulham finding a way to lose,” added Keane.
“I have no sympathy for them. They will be getting one or two plaudits, but they won’t be getting any from me. They had an opportunity and they blew it.”
Should Mitrovic get a long ban?
Following his act of violent conduct, Mitrovic will now serve a three-game suspension in the Premier League and will miss games against Bournemouth, West Ham and Everton – but given the nature of the incident, there could be a case for the Serbian striker to be banned for longer.
Silva hopes the FA are lenient when they review the incident and the referee’s post-match report.
“I don’t think so,” the Fulham boss said when asked if he feels Mitrovic could be set for a lengthy suspension.
“I saw the image and have spoken with Mitrovic. It’s a moment where he needs to control his emotions. Of course, in that moment he pushes the referee but not in a so, so bad way. I hope that the people who decide do so with fairness.
“As in that moment with the red card, penalty and two moments we had in their box that Mitrovic was involved where no-one checked or cared about that situation. Unfortunately for us we have been really unlucky with Chris Kavanagh this season – many moments already. It’s difficult to understand some of his decisions.
“It’s difficult for us to accept these decisions because I understand Manchester United are a huge club and it’s the quarter-finals but both teams have to have the same conditions to keep in the competition.
“You cannot decide one way because sometimes it’s Manchester United or Fulham to decide completely different in some situations. The referee sometimes feels the pressure, like I feel, like Ten Hag can feel, like the players feel, but the people in the office [VAR team at Stockley Park], it’s really difficult to accept.
“Our story with Chris Kavanagh this season has been really tough as a football club. We had that West Ham game away from home where we lost the game on two clear handball goals and it was Chris Kavanagh in that match.”
Silva: Why did referee not check monitor for penalty?
Speaking to ITV afterwards, Silva said he felt aggrieved that his side were not awarded a penalty of their own.
Early pressure saw David de Gea push Diop’s looping header over, while Mitrovic wanted a penalty – and United defenders a yellow for diving – when he tangled with Lisandro Martinez in the box.
“We should talk about all the game and not just one moment. Until the penalty and red card, we were clearly the best team on the pitch. We respect Manchester United but it was clear we was the best team on the pitch.”
When asked about the penalty incident involving Willian, Silva said: “It is a decision the VAR can take, what is difficult to understand is why the two moments in their box in the first half, where one of them is a clear penalty on Mitrovic, why did no-one check?”
On his own red card, he added: “In that moment I shouldn’t be sent off. I don’t want that to happen. It’s my place to be there. If you ask me if I did something I’m happy with, of course not. But if you ask me if that it should be a red card, I have big doubts. I would like to know what the referee is going to write about what I said to him.”
Fulham’s meltdown in pictures
Aleksandar Mitrovic went from hero to zero as one of three red cards for Fulham in 90 seconds of bedlam at Old Trafford.
Keane: Man Utd must improve attitude for semi-final
Twelve-time Cup winners United advance to face Brighton at Wembley while Fulham will count the cost of a day that could hurt their push for Europe via the Premier League with suspensions to follow.
It was a dramatic turnaround in a game in which Fulham had been the better team for most of the afternoon.
The absence of the suspended Casemiro and Fred – among the substitutes as Scott McTominay and Sabitzer started – told, as perhaps did United’s relentless schedule across four fronts this season as the hosts laboured against a Fulham side showing plenty of bite with Joao Palhinha back from a ban.
And then United were gifted a route to Wembley.
“It’s literally impossible then to play with nine men,” continued Keane. “Fulham tried to sit back but United just toyed with them the last 10-15 minutes.
“The priority for Manchester United today was to get into the next round but I still think the manager will be hugely disappointed with what he saw.
“Fulham self-destructed but United were so poor it was unbelievable.
“It’s better to be lucky than good, sometimes. They’ve found their way in the previous games and the home draws have really helped them.
“You need luck in Cup competitions and United have had their fair share this season.
“That said, I’ve lost a bit of confidence watching United now. A month or two ago, I was thinking they’re up for it. But the last couple of games I’ve seen some habits come back.
“It’s fine to play in moments every now and again but right now it feels like their DNA. They’ve slipped into some really bad habits.
“They turned up today expecting to win the match as they have quality players. But if they turn up with that attitude for the semi-final, Brighton will beat them.
“United need a kick up the back side.”