Goals from Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford cancelled out Alex Revell’s equalising spot-kick for Northampton, after Michael Carrick had opened the scoring, sealing a Round Four spot for Manchester United.
Carrick made it look like it was going to be a usual cup routine for Manchester United, by putting the Premier League giants ahead against their Sky Bet League One opponents. But the Cobblers failed to let the gulf between divisions restrain them as Alex Revell equalised much to the appreciation of the jubilant home crowd just before half-time.
Ander Hererra returned the visitors into the winning position on 68 minutes with a wonderful strike from the edge-of-the-box before celebrating madly with the away end. Substitute Marcus Rashford doubled United’s lead with a simple tap-in after Cobblers’ keeper Adam Smith made a horrendous error with 15 minutes remaining.
The visitors at Sixfields named a strong team, with Reds boss Jose Mourinho opting to field first-teamers Memphis Depay, Wayne Rooner, Chris Smalling, Michael Carrick, Daley Blind, Ashley Young, Ander Herrera and Morgan Schneiderlin – whilst Juan Mata, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jese Lingard, Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini were all named on the substitute’s bench.
The Premier League giants started the brightest of the two sides, coming close to scoring multiple times within the opening quarter-of-an-hour.
Hererra picked out Marcus Rojo who sent an inviting cross fizzing across the face of goal, but no-one on the visiting team was able to tap it in.
But Mourinho’s side’s pressure eventually told as the visitors broke the deadlock just after the 15 minute mark. Rooney delivered a fine free-kick into the Northampton box, it was cleared only as far as Carrick though who calmly swept a shot home from the edge of the box.
The home side failed to let their score dampen their spirits in-front of a packed-out Sixfields and continued to mount a comeback with Brendan Moloney and Alex Revell both coming close for the home side.
The visitors thought they had doubled their lead on 31 minutes but United’s celebrations were cut short as Rooney’s header was cancelled out by the linesman who deemed him offside.
But soon afterwards the hosts came close once again as Kenji Gorre had a spectacular effort tipped over the bar and the resultant corner was headed over by Zander Diamond.
However three minutes later the Cobblers were awarded a penalty and Revell stepped up and fired home to cancel out Carrick’s opener.
United were unable to respond to their host’s late raid at the end of the first half, but managed to hold on to keep themselves at a level peg as they went into the break.
The scoreboard ticked its way closer to the hour-mark with the two sides still level, but United returned to the quick-fire form they had in the opening stages of the first half by forcing the pressure onto Northampton early on.
On 50 minutes United won a corner after Moloney cleared the impending danger. Young curled it in from the left wing but Sam Hoskins was on hand to quickly clear the loose ball to safety.
Mourinho made his first two substitutions as he introduced Ibrahimovic and youngster Marcus Rashford with Memphis Depay and Timothy Fosu-Mensah coming off.
It seemed as if Mourinho’s tactical change was a piece of ingenuity as nine minutes later the Red Devils came close once again, Hererra’s thunderous shot from 20-odd yards smacked against the post but spun out for a Cobblers goal-kick.
Herrera’s earlier miss failed to disappoint him however as the 27-year-old fired home from the edge of the box to put United back into the ascendancy on 68 minutes. He fancied his chances from range once again and thrashed a low, hard effort from 20 yards which beat Cobblers’ ‘keeper Adam Smith for pace and power.
That was not the end for Mourinho’s side however as substitute Rashford calmly finished after stealing the ball from Smith. The home ‘keeper was completely at fault for the visitors’ third goal, his hurried clearance under pressure failed to make and distance and Rashford won the ball before rolling it past Smith into an empty net, sealing United’s place in the Fourth Round.