It was all set up for a famous FA Cup upset as Fulham led treble-chasing Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday.
But in the space of seven chaotic second-half minutes, the visitors were reduced to nine players, had their manager sent off and conceded twice.
It was a meltdown of epic proportions and United capitalized on it in ruthless fashion to advance to the semifinals with a 3-1 win that keeps its three-pronged trophy pursuit on track.
There is also the prospect of a mouthwatering FA Cup final against Manchester City after the rivals were kept apart in the draw for the last four.
Thoughts of an all-Manchester showdown at Wembley on June 3, however, looked in serious doubt after Aleksandar Mitrovic fired Fulham ahead in the 50th minute of the quarterfinal match.
That was before the game was turned upside down as Fulham’s players and manager Marco Silva lost control.
Emotions boiled over after Willian blocked Jadon Sancho’s goal-bound shot in the 70th and VAR instructed referee Chris Kavanagh to review the incident on the touchline monitor.
Before the official could even make a decision, he had shown a red card to Silva for remonstrating furiously in the dugout.
Replays showed Willian had clearly used his hand and was sent off as a result. That sparked outrage from Mitrovic, who angrily approached Kavanagh and was also shown red.
All three dismissals came over a period of 40 seconds.
“Even if I haven’t done something special, I have to control myself,” Silva said afterward. “I didn’t say anything special to the ref, he didn’t listen and showed me the red card. It is a moment to control my emotions. The game was decided in the moment.”
All that was left was for Bruno Fernandes to dispatch his penalty and even the score in the 75th.
Two minutes later Marcel Sabitzer put United in front and nine-man Fulham was on its way out.
Bruno Fernandes scored a second to make it 3-1 in the sixth minute of stoppage time and set up a Wembley semifinal game against Brighton.
Manager Erik ten Hag has already led United to victory in the League Cup this season and his team is also into the quarterfinals of the Europa League where it faces Sevilla.
“One thing is important — don’t think too far ahead,” Ten Hag said. “Go from game to game.
“We see the progress in the team, but this team has a strong character, strong belief, strong determination to win games. Today was an example of it. When you have difficult period in a game, stay in the game and turn the game.”
MITROVIC FACES BAN
Aleksandar Mitrovic will receive at least an automatic three-game ban for his sending off, which had echoes of an infamous incident involving Paulo di Canio from 1998.
The then Sheffield Wednesday striker was banned for 11 games after shoving referee Paul Alcock to the ground during a match.
“I saw the image and I spoke with Mitro, it is a moment for him to control the emotions,” Silva said. “He pushed the referee, but I did not see that in so bad, bad way like you are saying to me. But I hope the people who are going to decide (do so) with fairness.”
ARSENAL MARCHES ON
Knocked out of Europe on Thursday, Arsenal’s sights are now solely fixed on winning the Premier League title for the first time in 19 years.
And that elusive prize edged closer as a 4-1 win against Crystal Palace moved Mikel Arteta’s team eight points clear at the top of the table.
There was no sign of a hangover after the penalty shootout loss to Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League as Arsenal underlined its title credentials.
Gabriel Martinelli, who missed the decisive spot kick in that match, quickly put that disappointment behind him by opening the scoring against Palace.
“There is always the question,” Arsenal manager Arteta said. “But I asked him yesterday how he was and he said: ‘I want to be in the team.’
“We were really determined and focused and left Thursday in the past.”
Arsenal still has to play second-place Manchester City and Liverpool before the end of the season. But the London club is in impressive form having won six in a row in the league.
Bukayo Saka provided the pass for Martinelli and became the first player in the league to reach double figures for goals and assists this season. He then went on to score two more himself.
Granit Xhaka got Arsenal’s other goal, while Jeffrey Schlupp scored for Palace, who fired manager Patrick Vieira this week.
DOYLE RULED OUT
Manchester City prospect Tommy Doyle fired Sheffield United into the FA Cup semifinals and then learned he will have to miss out on the biggest game of his young career.
The 21-year-old midfielder is on loan at Sheffield and due to competition rules is ineligible to play against his parent club after the Blades were drawn against Manchester City in the next round.
It means Doyle will be a spectator for the match at Wembley, when Premier League champions City will be favorites to advance to the final.
Doyle struck in the first minute of second-half stoppage time as Sheffield beat Blackburn Rovers 3-2 in a thrilling quarterfinal clash between the two second-tier sides.
Blackburn had twice taken the lead through Ben Brereton and Sammie Szmodics.
Sam Gallagher’s own-goal and Oliver McBurnie evened the score on each occasion before Doyle’s late winner.
But he barely had time to enjoy his celebrations before learning Sheffield had been drawn against City.
FAIRY TALE ENDS
Grimsby’s FA Cup fairy tale is over after the fourth-tier team was routed 5-0 by Premier League Brighton.
Grimsby was the lowest-ranked team left in the competition and had reached the quarters for the first time since 1939, having knocked out top-flight Southampton in the last round.
But there was no danger of another upset against Brighton, which scored four goals in the second half at Amex Stadium.
Deniz Undav fired the home side in front after just six minutes. Evan Ferguson scored twice after the break, with Solly March and Kaoru Mitoma completing the rout.