Northampton 0 Manchester United 3

25th January 2004
Sixfields, Northampton

All hopes of a cup upset were dashed when Diego Forlan prodded home from close range on 68 minutes to secure a three-nil victory for the Red Devils.

It was an under-strength squad that was put out onto the pitch by Sir Alex, with Nicky Butt, who is on the transfer-list, being handed the captaincy, as Giggs, Keane, van Nistelrooy, the Nevilles, and Tim Howard were all left out of the team. Northampton may have thought that their luck was in Ruud had been due to start but had come back from training in Dubai with a knock on the shins.

However, Northampton's "dream tie" against the Champions at home soon turned into one long nightmare as, from the kick-off, the Reds surged forwards. The players were under no illusions about how hard the game would be, even if they were playing a team in the third division.

Remarkably, it was Northampton who had the first major chance, with Asamoah punting wide just two minutes into the game. Two minutes later and it should have been business as usual. As Ronaldo went up to head a Quinton Fortune cross he was bundled to the floor, and a penalty was awarded. The Champions would have been one-up just four minutes in had it not been for Forlan's weak penalty kick that was kept out by a jubilant ex-Arsenal Harper

The "Cobblers" did not manage to keep Manchester United at bay for long though. The on-going Red siege around the box led to a flimsy shot from Ronaldo, who was having one of his better days. The goalie's parry was easily slotted home by Silvestre for a 34th minute advantage.

Northampton drew comfort from the fact that they were only one down, and ran out for the second half with every intention of causing hell. Luck was not on their side, and when Hargreaves headed home a Ronaldo corner for an own-goal, you could tell it wasn't going to be their day.

The tricks and flicks from Ronaldo and Bellion had the crowd wishing that man United played there every week, although the players were more than happy to see the game ended with much of the press hoping for an 8 2 defeat to match the Best tie of 1972.

Forlan prodded home after Ronaldo cleverly headed back across goal, and the tie was effectively over. The emphatic score-line allowed Sir Alex to bring on some youngsters Richardson, Bardsley and Pugh who all looked solid enough in their various positions.

It is the first time that United have been in the Quarter-Finals of the FA Cup since they won it in 1999, and left Fergie with a smile on his face. He will be hoping that they get a similarly easy game in the next round though they have every chance of meeting Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool.

Northampton: Harper, Reid, Sampson, Willmott, Carruthers (Chambers 51), Lyttle, Hargreaves, Lincoln (Harsley 72), Smith, Asamoah, Reeves (Richards 45).

Subs Not Used: Thompson, Vieira.

Man Utd: Carroll, O'Shea, Brown, Silvestre (Bardsley 72), Fortune (Pugh 89), Bellion, Fletcher, Butt, Scholes (Richardson 72), Ronaldo, Forlan.

Subs Not Used: Howard, Keane.

Booked: Richardson.

Attendance: 7,356.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).