BLACKBURN: Blackburn Rovers’ Sammie Szmodics (L) scores during the FA Cup fifth-round match against Newcastle United at Ewood Park.—Reuters
BLACKBURN: Blackburn Rovers’ Sammie Szmodics (L) scores during the FA Cup fifth-round match against Newcastle United at Ewood Park.—Reuters

LUTON: Erling Haaland roared back to his best form with a five-goal salvo as Manchester City thumped Luton Town 6-2 at Kenilworth Road to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on Tuesday.

Luton had no answer to the marauding Norwegian who bagged his eighth City hat-trick before halftime and then scored twice more after the break to kill off a stirring Luton revival.

The 23-year-old Haaland’s first four goals were all created by Kevin De Bruyne. Mateo Kovacic also got on the scoresheet for holders City who are unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions.

Luton threatened an unlikely comeback when Jordan Clark found the top corner with a sublime effort on the stroke of halftime and netted again early in the second half.

But a strong City side instantly found another gear to cruise into the hat for the last eight.

Second-tier leaders Leicester City joined Pep Guardiola’s side in the quarter-finals as they beat Premier League Bournemouth 1-0 thanks to Abdul Fatawu’s extra-time goal.

Newcastle United squeezed through in a penalty shootout at Blackburn Rovers after the tie ended 1-1.

The night belonged to the unstoppable Haaland though as he became the first top-flight player to score five goals in an FA Cup tie since George Best struck six for Manchester United against Northampton Town in 1970.

“Kevin De Bruyne is massive. He is doing what he is best at. It’s a pleasure playing with him,” Haaland, whose hat-trick was his first for City away from home, told ITV. “We know what we both want from each other. It clicks well. I am getting back to my best. Finally I am feeling good. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s coming, we’re coming. Exciting times ahead. We are ready to attack.”

The only blemish for City, who face Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday, was an injury to Jack Grealish who was forced off before halftime with a recurrence of a groin injury.

Haaland had scored only five goals in his previous 11 appearances for City — a spell interrupted by a foot injury that some suggested had taken the edge off his game.

But he blew away any doubts in emphatic fashion with a sensational display of centre forward play.

“Erling was on fire and Kevin was perfect,” was Guardiola’s verdict. “The connection they have. Erling needs a player like Kevin and Kevin needs a player like Erling.”

City meant business from the start and went ahead in the fourth minute as Matheus Nunes played in De Bruyne who cut back a perfect pass for Haaland to fire past Tim Krul.

De Bruyne played Haaland through in the 18th minute to make it 2-0 and Haaland’s hat-trick goal was almost a carbon copy as he again rolled his marker and surged on to a De Bruyne pass before dinking a deft shot over Krul.

Clark gave the home fans some cheer when he curled a perfect shot past Stefan Ortega and Luton punished City for some slack defending just after the restart with Clark finishing well.

But Haaland tapped in a De Bruyne pass a couple of minutes later and then grabbed his fifth from Bernardo Silva’s assist before being substituted, much to Luton’s relief.

Newcastle were given a big scare at Championship strugglers Blackburn. Anthony Gordon gave them the lead at Ewood Park but Rovers hit back with Samuel Szmodics taking the game to extra time in which both sides were close to nicking it.

The visitors edged through 4-3 on penalties with Blackburn captain Dominic Hyam having his kick saved by Martin Dubravka.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2024

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