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Manchester United Win Over Fulham By Last-Minute Winning Goal



Manchester United Win Over Fulham By Last-Minute Winning Goal

Bruno Fernandes’ two decisive touches give Erik ten Hag a Manchester United lifeline. The glory and the adrenalin of a last-minute winning goal away from home was in keeping with the great traditions of his famous club, but on reflection Erik ten Hag will know that was just about all from this day that stands comparison with the past of Manchester United.

At their lowest ebb, United did at least summon something – a scruffy goal at the end of an inauspicious game. What Bruno Fernandes’s winner might signify is hard to say because there have been these putative turning points before – in fact as recently as a month ago against Brentford, but they have tended to be followed by United going back into a dark place.

That late win on October 7 at Old Trafford was the start of a mini-revival that was followed by two defeats that threatened to cut the ground out from under Ten Hag’s feet. Bearing that in mind it would be hard to argue that a win ground out against a Fulham side who had the better of the second half might be a historic turning point in the life of the club, but for Ten Hag hope springs eternal.

He invoked the spirit of the Brentford win again on this occasion. “Now we see it again,” the United manager said, “it is a good dressing room. They fight for each other. They know what the standards are at Manchester United. You have to win every game and they know they have to do it together and this attitude you need to play at this club.”

Certainly there was much reason for United’s players to be discouraged by the end. They had relied upon two excellent saves from Andre Onana when Fulham threatened most. Rasmus Hojlund had been substituted without a chance to his name. The winger Antony had gone the same way having failed to beat his full-back Antonee Robinson more than once. Harry Maguire seemed distressed by a blow to the head – later denied by United – and he was arguably his team’s best player.

That was the situation in the 90th minute when, as Marco Silva would later describe it, “three to four players made three to four mistakes in 10 seconds” and Fernandes buried a right-foot shot past Bernd Leno. Relief all-round on the United bench, although it felt that this was a United team cobbled together to survive a crisis. Alex Iwobi and Joao Palhinha had the best of it in midfield, and Fulham just lacked a finisher.

That was before one got onto the subject of Marcus Rashford, who watched from behind the benches having been left out the squad. Ten Hag had not mentioned a problem for the player whom he criticised for that post-Manchester City party, in his Friday press conference. Post-match he said Rashford had suffered unspecified “complaints after training” and, having travelled with the squad, was deemed unwell on Saturday morning.

What was left after that was not a very convincing United side. It was pieced together from the fit and the loyal, and those in the last-chance saloon. Jonny Evans and Maguire in the centre of defence. Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen in holding midfield. A dismal first half gave way to something better after the break, although Fulham looked dangerous. There were 18 attempts on goal from the home side over the course of the game.

Silva was despondent about the result although unwilling to say that they had got it wrong tactically. “The reality is that in those 10 seconds we lost emotional control,” he said.

The substitutes Facundo Pellistri and Antony Martial did contribute in some way to the penalty box chaos. Then Fernandes took one touch to send Palhinha and substitute Sasa Lukic the wrong way, and another to score.

Fulham’s young Brazilian striker Rodrigo Muniz came off in tears in the second half having overextended his leg and, Silva said, feeling a pain in his knee. No news yet on how serious but it was notable that Maguire put a consoling arm around his opponent in that moment

It had been Muniz’s shoulder that had slammed into Maguire’s face in the first minute of the game. He was checked, United said, for concussion and was passed. On the hour the referee John Brooks told Maguire to go off for what looked like another check but which United insisted was a problem with the defender’s hand.

The Var Jarred Gillett had sent referee Brooks to the screen for a McTominay goal on eight minutes. Maguire had been judged offside as he lunged for a Eriksen free-kick that was cut back by Alejandro Garnacho. McTominay finished it off and then came a long and onerous wait for the decision that Maguire had indeed been attempting to affect the game.

Come the end of the match, United were beginning to feel the tension. Fernandes fouled his Portugal team-mate Palhinha. The restless away end, which had exhorted United to attack in the first half, were quiet. Ten Hag did not risk overloading with attacking players to win the game, mindful perhaps that he might just as likely lose it. Not that he was overburdened with great options to do so.

Fernandes’s goal was his third of the season and all of them have been match-winning – which is not a bad record to have. “He [Fernandes] is taking responsibility all the time, on and off the pitch, and scoring important goals, for instance,” Ten Hag said. “But he also wants to have the ball, wants to create so I’m happy with my captain.”

Of course, he could hardly be anything but happy, which is testament to how much a late winning goal can change the story of an afternoon. Whether it can do the same for a season is another question altogether.

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