Manchester United made this Carabao Cup quarter-final far more attritional than they might due to Erik ten Hag’s shuffling his team selection.
Having an eye on Saturday’s 189th derby with Manchester City meant the manager sent out a weakened XI but they still kept up their bid to end United’s six-year trophy-drought alive in the competition.
Charlton had arrived as the hopefuls from two tiers below and ended the game pressing United. After Ashley Maynard-Brewer, the visiting No 1, appeared to handle outside his area Charlton launched a raid and claimed a free-kick outside United’s danger area.
Scott Fraser stepped up and bounced the dead ball at Tom Heaton and he gratefully gathered. This was as close as Charlton got in the final phase as United finally closed the tie out via Marcus Rashford’s two late strikes.
Alejandro Garnacho, a menace from kick-off, burst along the left and set-up Diogo Dalot who should not have blasted over. This was followed by the youngster again slicing through Charlton’s defence and unloading but Maynard-Brewer’s goal was not threatened.
United swarmed all over their visitor, Fred hitting a piledriver that hit Ryan Inniss’s head and knocked the defender over, so better for Charlton was Corey Blackett-Taylor’s drive and cross that Harry Maguire turned out for a corner.
When delivered by Albie Morgan it was bravely dealt with by Heaton, whose punch out came back via George Dobson’s attempt and the goalkeeper saved low down.
From here, United broke, the relentless Garnacho making a 60-yard ball carry, but after Scott McTominay, Anthony Elanga, Kobbie Mainoo and Tyrell Malacia all joined in the attack fizzled out.
Ten Hag had stood down to the bench the A-listers Rashford, Casemiro, Christian Eriksen, David de Gea and Luke Shaw and handed the 17-year-old Mainoo a debut, the Stockport lad operating in advanced midfield before the 9,000 Addicks enthusiasts who made the trip from south-east London for their biggest game since the triumphant 2019 League One playoff final.
What they next saw was Maguire, making a rare start, initiating the sequence that ended with Antony’s opener. The captain’s sweeping right-left diagonal was taken by Malacia, Fred was found, and when he tapped to the Brazilian a curving left-foot 20-yard peach beat Maynard-Brewer.
Elanga went close seconds later to doubling United’s lead but in a crowded area his effort was blocked.
Charlton showed why they are a mid-table League One side, coming up second-best in pace, invention, attack and execution as they were pinned back, hopeful of a breakaway they might convert.
But it was all United: on 33 minutes Aaron Wan-Bissaka was introduced for an injured Dalot, then Fred crashed a free-kick off Maynard-Brewer’s left post, before, at the other end, Morgan, from a similar 25-yard dead ball position, missed to Heaton’s right.
As the interval arrived United’s possession nudged above 70% and their shot count was at nine so their slender advantage was a poor return, something Ten Hag may well have told them, particularly as Heaton had to save from Fraser in first-half added time.
Charlton had a golden chance to equalise when Lisandro Martínez and Malacia missed second balls and Fraser, again, was passed to but he blazed high.
At this point the ruthlessness Ten Hag has demanded previously was absent and this was further emphasised when Elanga scored from an offside position: better concentration would have allowed United’s centre-forward to hold his ground and legally finish Wan-Bissaka’s volleyed pass.
United needed either to steady the contest or score again because those in white were no longer being cuffed aside. Ten Hag plumped for the former by bringing on Casemiro for Mainoo, Rashford for Antony, and Eriksen for Fred. By sending for the cavalry he hoped to finally put Charlton away because while trailing by only one Dean Holden’s men retained a serious hope.
After a Maguire dribble – he was dispossessed – next followed Eriksen claiming a corner: the Dane hit this in and after Rashford shot, Martínez’s strike was ruled offside.