LONDON – It wasn’t pretty, but Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag doesn’t care.
The Dutchman’s position at Old Trafford was seriously questioned for the first time in a week, with Bruno Fernandes scoring in stoppage-time to give United a 1-0 win at Fulham.
The ball bounced around the penalty area to Fecundo Pellistri, Scott McTominay, Joao Palhinha and Tim Reim before finding Fernandez on the edge of the box and he pushed his finish into the bottom corner through the outstretched hands of Bernd Leno.
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At best it was a comedy of errors and Ten Haag was smiling at the final whistle. It won’t win the goal of the season competition but after 3-0 defeats to Manchester City and Newcastle United, he’ll take what he can get. He can breathe again until they travel to FC Copenhagen in the Champions League on Wednesday.
“It was a good win, a solid performance,” said ten Haag, who was without Marcus Rashford 24 hours after the injury after branding his behavior “unacceptable” after the Manchester derby.
“We have to win every match. I think it was a solid performance and I am pleased with it.
“I was pleased with the spirit of the team and the way we pressed. They played very decent football from the back and we never let that happen. We were very good at pressing and winning the second ball, and the ball was going forward, but it was clear. Box us to make more. Will be. But I think the consistency on the ball was a step up.”
It was an important win but the performance did little to calm the concerns of fans who before kick-off held up a banner that read: “Play like you say.”
This is a team who seem capable of losing any game and they could have easily lost this one, especially during Fulham’s pressure shortly after half-time when Andre Onana had to save well from Harry Wilson and then Palhinha.
Leno only had to make one save from a late Fernández free kick, until picking the ball out of his net in stoppage time.
Afterwards, Fulham manager Marco Silva was left fuming after seeing United score an injury-time winner at Craven Cottage for the second consecutive season.
“It’s really hard to take,” Silva said. “We wanted to be a better team and I think we did that. We can’t be penalized the way we were at this level. In 10 seconds, there were three or four mistakes from three or four different players and it’s hard to understand.” It’s our fault that we didn’t win the game.”
The question now is whether Fernandez’s goal could be a platform for United, but Ten Hague still face a number of problems. Among them is not being able to score in the beginning.
After an eighth-minute McTominay goal was ruled out by VAR for offside, their first Premier League goal of the season came against Nottingham Forest on 17 minutes when they were already 2-0 down — one of just four first-half goals they have scored in 11 league games.
Only once have they led at half-time — against Burnley in September — and against a Fulham side that hasn’t scored in the first half of a league game at home, it was no surprise to go in 0-0 at the break. pause
Anthony, the second-most expensive player in the club’s history when he signed for £85m from Ajax 18 months ago, is another problem.
The Brazilian winger was substituted early in the second half after a largely uncharacteristic display. There were scattered cheers from the visitors as the 23-year-old walked towards the bench, holding up her number to the fourth official, Rebecca Welch.
Overpriced and inadequate, Anthony has become the latest poster boy for United’s failed recruitment strategy but the same questions are being asked about Mason Mount just months after his £55m summer move from Chelsea.
Left on the bench against Manchester City last weekend, the England midfielder was again named among the substitutes against Fulham as Ten Hague picked a midfield three of Fernandes, McTominay and Christian Eriksen.
Mount had two impressive seasons at Chelsea between 2020 and 2022 but at the moment it seems United have made a signing that Ten Haag has no place for, although he is certainly not alone in a squad full of under-performing players. .
Most importantly, though, the win against Fulham capped an upturn in form ahead of games against Copenhagen and Luton Town before the international break. The question remains unanswered but Ten Hague will hope they have calmed down, if only for a few days.