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Newport 2 Man Utd 4: Red Devils scrape past League Two minnows despite throwing away two-goal lead to avoid FA Cup shock

FOR 68 minutes of a belting FA Cup tie, Antony was playing the role of fancy-Dan fall-guy to perfection. 

With his bottle-blond hair, shocking-pink boots, a tendency to roll about in mock agony and a failure to score all season, Manchester United’s £85million Brazilian winger looked the perfect victim for a giant-killing. 

Antony's first goal of the season helped Man Utd to a narrow 4-2 win at Newport County

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Antony’s first goal of the season helped Man Utd to a narrow 4-2 win at Newport CountyCredit: Reuters
The plucky hosts had the FA Cup tie level with just 20 minutes remaining

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The plucky hosts had the FA Cup tie level with just 20 minutes remainingCredit: AFP

Erik Ten Hag’s side had tossed away a two-goal lead as League Two Newport County staged a stirring comeback.  

But then Antony – who hadn’t scored in 22 previous appearances this campaign, either side of being given leave to fight allegations of assault and abusive behaviour – snapped up the rebound when a Luke Shaw shot cannoned off the post. 

And suddenly Ten Hag was spared the job-threatening scenario of a Cup humiliation, on the back of his latest disciplinary crisis. 

Marcus Rashford’s absence from the squad had been put down to ‘illness’ by the club, but before kick-off, United’s manager had admitted his England forward was subject to an ‘internal matter’ which he would ‘deal with’. 

Rashford had been out partying in Belfast in midweek and, after the sagas over Jadon Sancho and Antony, earlier in the season, Ten Hag is struggling to cope with a squad which lacks professionalism. 

Still, at least his side are still in the Cup, where they will visit either Nottingham Forest or Bristol City in the fifth round in late February.

United had breezed into an early 2-0 lead through Bruno Fernandes and a maiden senior goal from Kobbie Mainoo, before Graham Coughlan’s League Two side struck back with goals either side of half-time from Bryn Morris and Will Evans. 

Before kick-off, Ten Hag had been greeted by a Welsh male voice choir telling him he would be ‘sacked in the morning’. 

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With this the only silverware United have left to aim for this season, there was little doubt that Ten Hag would name his strongest possible line-up. 

Indeed, way back in the mists of time when things were going well for the Dutchman, United reached both major domestic finals last season, winning the Carabao Cup and runners-up to City in this competition. 

Casemiro was back after injury, with Lisandro Martinez making his first start since a long lay-off. 

In recent seasons, the Exiles had defeated Leeds and Leicester, drawn with Tottenham and given Manchester City a very decent game here, to earn a reputation as one of the lower leagues’ most dangerous underdogs.

While the speed limit may have been slashed to 20mph in this nation, United’s start was absolutely rapid. 

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Credit: Getty

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Credit: Getty

Antony had already bent a shot wide of the far post before he teed up Fernandes’ emphatic seventh-minute opener. 

The skipper fed the winger, who cut back for Fernandes to rifle home a first-time shot that momentarily silenced a raucous home support.

For a while, United were bang at it, another neat move ending with Antony firing over. 

On 13 minutes, the second goal arrived, Diogo Dalot dribbling down the right and slipping a pass to Mainoo who steered his first senior goal into the far corner from the edge of the area. 

After a week of intense excitement and media spotlight for the League Two outfit, this was exactly the start they would have dreaded – the tie seemingly over before dusk had fallen. 

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Credit: Getty

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Credit: Getty

Soon Martinez was threading a long pass into the path of Garnacho, the Argentinian crashing a shot against the bar. 

United’s debutant keeper Altay Bayindir, deputising during Andre Onana’s brief AFCON absence, was finally called into action with a routine save from Will Evans. 

County skipper Ryan Delaney denied Antony with an excellent block before keeper Nick Townsend pushed another Antony effort around the post. 

So there was little warning that Newport would crowbar their way back into this tie but on, 37 minutes, that’s exactly what they did. 

United failed to clear a long ball from Townsend and Morris chested down and fired home from 30 yards, his effort deflecting off Martinez and leaving Bayindir helpless. 

Suddenly it was ‘game on’, the crowd was lifted, there was extra snap in every Newport tackle and United were looking twitchy in defence. 

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Credit: Getty

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Credit: Reuters

And two minutes into the second half, Coughlan’s men stunned their celebrity guests with an equaliser. 

Adam Lewis whipped a low cross from the left and Evans, a farmer’s son from mid-Wales, nipped in front of Varane, a World Cup and multiple Champions League winner, to side-foot past Bayindir. 

The weird sorcery of this competition was working and the corrugated roof of the main stand was rattling with the din as every tackle and block from the League Two side was roared. 

Belief was surging through the Amber Army and their everyman heroes were first into every challenge as ridicule rained down on Ten Hag. 

Antony had been getting dog’s abuse from the home crowd just before his moment of good fortune arrived. 

Shaw cut inside from the left and pinged a right-footed shot against the far post, the rebound falling perfectly for Antony to tap home. 

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Credit: PA

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Credit: AP

After a delay for a medical emergency in the crows, Evans drilled a shot just wide and the announcement of nine minutes’ injury-time was met with elation as Newport surged forward. 

But soon, Rasmus Hojlund bundled home United’s fourth to seal their progress and add a harsh edge to the scoreline.

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