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Ten Hag makes Man United's FA Cup semifinal win over Coventry feel like a defeat

Struggling past Coventry only provided more compelling arguments that Erik ten Hag's days as Manchester United manager are numbered.

Published by Web Desk



LONDON -- Manchester United are into the FA Cup final, but the manner with which they scraped past Coventry City will do nothing for Erik ten Hag's prospects of remaining as manager.

If anything, the supporters who streamed out of Wembley and back to Manchester after watching their team win a penalty shootout at the end of a dramatic day will be more convinced than ever that the Dutchman is no longer the right man for the job. United were cruising at 3-0 before allowing Coventry to score three times in the final 20 minutes, including a 95th-minute equaliser, sending the game to penalties tied 3-3.

The Championship side were the better team in extra time and thought they had completed one of the greatest FA Cup comebacks ever when Victor Torp found the net with the final kick only to have their celebrations cut short by VAR and the tightest of offside calls. In the end it was more Wembley penalty heartbreak for Coventry, who lost in a shootout to Luton Town in last season's Championship playoff final.

- Stream the replay on ESPN+: Man United vs. Coventry City (U.S. only)

United, meanwhile, go on to the final against Manchester City, a repeat of last season's showpiece. Ten Hag is likely to be on the touchline next to Pep Guardiola on May 25, but there is ever-increasing doubt that he will still be at Old Trafford next season.

"Mixed feelings, it is clear," Ten Hag said when asked to sum up the day. "It's an achievement to be twice in the FA Cup final in two years. In the last 20 years, United were five times in the final but we are now two times in two years. It's a huge achievement.

"When you are so in control, dominating the game, 3-0 up, we should win it. The way we didn't was not good. From the 70 minutes to the end we made mistakes."

What, then, will Sir Jim Ratcliffe be thinking? The 71-year-old United co-owner was in the stands after completing the London marathon hours earlier, but watching Ten Hag's team in the second half provided his most gruelling trial of the day.

The game was seemingly done and dusted in the 58th minute when Bruno Fernandes scored United's third, only for the Red Devils to then inexplicably decide to remind everyone just how flimsy they are.

For much of the afternoon, Coventry played like a team just happy to be on a break from the Championship, where they've lost three of their past four games. But once Ellis Simms pulled a goal back in the 71st minute, United began to creak and crack, and Coventry took advantage.

Callum O'Hare got the second eight minutes later via a heavy deflection before referee Robert Jones caused bedlam in the sea of sky blue behind the goal by pointing to the penalty spot having spotted a debatable handball from Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

VAR confirmed it, Haji Wright tucked it away and for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson's final game in charge in 2013, United had thrown away a three-goal lead.

With United now apparently determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, Wright flashed a good chance wide in extra time and Simms hit the underside of the crossbar.

Only the VAR lines saved United from losing to Torp's goal in the 121st minute -- "I think it was a toenail offside" Coventry boss Mark Robins said afterwards -- but Ten Hag still had to thank O'Hare and Ben Sheaf for missing penalties in the shootout. They've probably kept him in a job for an extra month.

It said everything that when Rasmus Højlund scored with the decisive kick to book a second successive FA Cup final, the celebrations were muted. If it's possible to be undeserving of victory having led 3-0, then United found a way to achieve it.

"We can play at very high levels, but in the same match we can go to very low levels and that's not explainable," Ten Hag said. "On several occasions we let each other down. Today we got away with it. With all the injuries, we don't have so many tools. We don't even have a back four in their best positions.

"On that part I have to give the team a compliment, the players managed that, they were in a position that is not in their best. They gave 100%, and it's not always easy to play the best football when you're not in your best position."

Ten Hag has been keen to point to the long injury list as the key reason behind the team's miserable campaign, but even though he faced Coventry without 10 senior players and Casemiro as an auxiliary centre-back, it didn't explain the collapse.

Again he substituted Alejandro Garnacho in the second half and ceded an element of control. In the past month, the Argentine has been replaced with United leading Chelsea 4-3, leading Liverpool 2-1 and leading Coventry 3-0, and each time they've fallen away.

Garnacho was still running when he came off in the 66th minute, and it was noteworthy that Robins said United began to look "leggy" around the same time.

United's new ownership team insists no decision has been made on Ten Hag's future, but if he loses his job in the summer, it will be because of days like this.

He said afterward it was "crazy" to think that victory in an FA Cup semifinal might have weakened his position as manager, but that was the overriding feeling when Højlund's final penalty nestled in the net.

Still in charge, no obvious successor and an FA Cup final against City to come, there's still time for him to prove he should stay, but struggling past Coventry only provided more compelling arguments that he should go.
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'Big fan!': Caleb Williams, Rome Odunze run into each other on flight to NFL draft

En route to the 2024 NFL draft, Caleb Williams shared a flight with a familiar face.

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Caleb Williams ran into a surprise guest on his flight to Detroit on Tuesday -- former Washington Huskies' wide receiver Rome Odunze.

The projected No. 1 pick in Thursday's 2024 NFL draft posted about seeing Odunze on X, writing: "Oh s--- yall I just saw Rome Odunze on my flight to Detroit!! Big fan!"

The wide receiver jokingly responded that he's "actually the pilot." Odunze and Williams landed safely before taking a photo together in Detroit.

In ESPN's NFL Nation's final mock draft, Williams and Odunze are both projected to be drafted by the Chicago Bears, adding to a wide receiver room that already has Keenan Allen and DJ Moore.

Williams threw for 3,633 yards and 30 touchdowns in his final season with the USC Trojans. Odunze had a career-high 1,640 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns with the Huskies.
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Edwards drops 33, lets Suns know in decisive win

Anthony Edwards scorched the Suns to the tune of 33 points as the Timberwolves trounced the Suns for a Game 1 win on Saturday.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- With the Target Center pulsating, Anthony Edwards decided to take the temperature of his shooting streak.

The Minnesota Timberwolves' dynamic young superstar, dripping with confidence, had already buried a string of jumpers, becoming more animated after each one widened the score. Then, with 48 seconds left in the game-defining third quarter, Edwards drifted toward the left wing and took aim.

Kevin Durant's infinite wingspan was a touch too late on the closeout, and Edwards' 3-pointer danced through the net, letting loose a deafening roar from a sellout crowd.

The Timberwolves' lead stretched to 16, and Edwards, 22, celebrated by bobbing his head up and down, pounding one hand on his chest and shouting at Durant, 35, who shook his head and smiled. The moment electrified the crowd, but it also felt like something more, something with historic gravity -- the future announcing its arrival, perhaps.

"I think everybody here knows that's my favorite player of all time, so that was probably one of the best feelings ever in my whole life," Edwards said after scoring a game-high 33 in the Timberwolves' 120-95 Game 1 win against the Phoenix Suns.

The Timberwolves' 25-point victory marked their second largest in postseason history, according to ESPN Stats & Information, behind only a 28-point trouncing of the Los Angeles Lakers on April 22, 2003. And Edwards was the catalyst. The former No. 1 pick added nine rebounds, six assists and another notch to his growing legend.

Dating to last season, Saturday proved to be his fifth straight playoff game with 25 or more points -- the longest such streak in team history. Edwards' sixth playoff game of 30 or more points also placed him one behind Timberwolves great Kevin Garnett for the most such games in franchise history.

But Edwards' biggest impact came in the third quarter, when he scored 18 points -- tied with Sam Cassell for most in a quarter in Timberwolves playoff history -- and notched more field goals (8) than the Suns (6) did as a team.

By the end of that quarter, the Timberwolves led by 20 -- just the second time in franchise history that they have led by that much entering the fourth quarter of a postseason contest. The fourth quarter largely amounted to garbage time.

Game 2 of the series is Tuesday, with the Timberwolves seeking to escape the first round of the postseason for the first time since 2004. Durant, a 14-time All-Star playing his first full season in Phoenix, led the Suns with 31 points. He acknowledged the obvious in terms of his exchange with Edwards: "He got it going, he made some tough ones."

But Edwards, a two-time All-Star, lobbed considerable praise toward Durant.

"Did you see him in the third quarter?" Edwards remarked of Durant. "I felt like we were supposed to be up 15, 18 in the third quarter early. And if I'm not mistaken, he made four or five straight buckets like it was nothing. And I became a fan at one point. I was out there like, 'Goddamn, he nice.' There's nothing we can do. [Karl-Anthony Towns] was playing great defense. Rudy [Gobert] was playing great defense.

"I'm looking at the stat sheet, he's 11-for-17 [from the field]. He missed six shots and had 31. I mean, he's the greatest to ever do it, man. Big tip of my hat to him, he's the best."

Indeed, Durant made four jumpers early in the third quarter, but he ultimately took only five shots in the second half. Devin Booker finished with 18 points on 16 shots, but he managed just 1-of-7 from the field when guarded by Jaden McDaniels, the Timberwolves' defensive specialist on the perimeter. Bradley Beal scored 15 points on 10 shots.

"This was probably their best game that we've seen," Beal said. "Respectfully so, it's one game."

The win marked an about-face for Minnesota, which lost all three regular-season contests to Phoenix by double digits.

The most recent defeat came Sunday, when the Timberwolves fell by a nearly identical score -- 125-106 -- compared to what they posted Saturday.

"These guys came here and whooped us in our home court in the last game of the season and were giggling and laughing," Edwards recalled. "Beal, he told our coach that he doesn't think we play hard enough -- and he was right. [Timberwolves coach Chris] Finch didn't like that. He came in the next day and was like, 'Man, you've got guys on the other team telling me that y'all don't play hard enough for me.' And he was totally right.

"We [were] out there just running around letting them do what they want to do. That's a great team. All three of those guys, they're great players, man. It's going to be hard to beat these guys."

For the Timberwolves, Edwards starred, but the team received well-rounded efforts from Towns (19 points, 7 rebounds), Gobert (14 points, 16 rebounds) and the bench, with Nickeil Alexander-Walker scoring 18 and Naz Reid adding 12 points.

Most impressively, the Timberwolves held decisive edges in rebounds (52 to 28), points in the paint (52 to 34) and second-chance points (20 to 6).

"Our focus and our urgency was obviously at an all-time high," Gobert said. "I love how we respected the game plan all 48 minutes, from the first to the last. We tried to not let them get a hot start like they did the three other games and just do what we do."
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