TORONO — Erik ten Hag, the manager of Manchester United, won’t care that it wasn’t pretty.
After a week in which the Dutchman’s future at Old Trafford was called into question for the first time, Bruno Fernandes scored a goal in stoppage time to give United a gruelling 1-0 victory over Fulham.
Bernd Leno’s outstretched hand allowed Fernandes to push his shot into the bottom corner after the ball bounced and bobbled about the penalty area, off Facundo Pellistri, Scott McTominay, João Palhinha, and Tim Ream.
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Ten Hag was the one chuckling after the last whistle, as it was, at best, a comedy of errors. It won’t win any goals of the season, but he’ll take anything after losing 3-0 at home to Manchester City and Newcastle United in back-to-back games. He can now breathe normally, at least until Wednesday, when he visits FC Copenhagen in the Champions League.
“It’s a good win, a solid performance,” commented Ten Hag, who did not have Marcus Rashford due to injury 24 hours after calling his actions following the Manchester derby “unacceptable.”
Following his late, late victory at Fulham, Bruno Fernandes celebrates.Getty Images/Bryn Lennon
“We have to win every game. It was a good performance, in my opinion, and I’m happy with it.
“I am happy with the team’s attitude and the way we worked hard. We never let them play football from the back, where they play extremely good football. We excelled at pushing, winning, and moving the ball forward, but it’s evident in the box that we need to produce more. However, I believe that the poise on the ball was an improvement.”
Although the victory was crucial, the performance won’t allay the crowd’s concerns. Supporters held a banner with the words “play like you mean it” aloft prior to kickoff.
This is a club that seems capable of losing every game, and they had a fair chance of losing this one, especially during the Fulham pressure just after the break, when André Onana had to make excellent saves against Harry Wilson and then Palhinha.
Leno had to make just one noteworthy save, stopping a late Fernandes free kick, until he fished the ball out of his net in stoppage time.
Following United’s second consecutive season of scoring an injury-time winner at Craven Cottage, Fulham manager Marco Silva was incensed.
“It’s quite challenging to accept,” Silva remarked. We aimed to outperform the opposition, and I believe we succeeded. We cannot continue to be punished in this manner at this point. It’s hard to understand since in ten seconds, three or four separate players made three or four faults. We obviously lost the game, which was our responsibility.”
Now, the question is whether Fernandes’ goal can serve as a foundation for United to advance, although Ten Hag is still dealing with a lot of issues. Not being able to score early is one of them.
Their earliest Premier League goal of the season came against Nottingham Forest at 17 minutes, when they were already behind 2-0. This is one of just four goals they have scored in the first half of their 11 league games. VAR disallowed a McTominay goal in the eighth minute for being offside.
They have only led at halftime once, which was against Burnley in September. Given that Fulham haven’t scored in the first half of a league game at home, it was expected that the score would be 0-0 at the interval.
Another issue is Antony, the second-most expensive player in the club’s history after joining for £85 million from Ajax 18 months ago.
Following an almost inconspicuous performance, the Brazilian winger was replaced early in the second half. The 23-year-old received sporadic applause from the visiting supporters as he walked slowly towards the benches, with fourth official Rebecca Welch holding up his number.
Supporters of Manchester United wave a banner calling on their squad to demonstrate desire.Getty Images, Kieran Cleeves, and PA Images
Expensive and lacklustre, Antony is beginning to emerge as the latest symbol of United’s misguided hiring approach; however, Mason Mount is also drawing criticism, only a few months after he moved from Chelsea for a cool £55 million.
The England midfielder, who was benched against Manchester City the previous weekend, was once more designated as a substitute when Ten Hag selected a midfield three consisting of Fernandes, McTominay, and Christian Eriksen against Fulham.
Ten Hag doesn’t seem to have a spot for Mount, despite the fact that he’s not the only underperformer in a team full of underachievers, despite Mount having two strong seasons at Chelsea between 2020 and 2022.
The most crucial element, though, is that a win over Fulham sets off a run of good performances ahead of matches against Luton Town and Copenhagen before the international break. Ten Hag hopes that the questions have been answered, even if only temporarily, as they remain unanswered.