Erik ten Hag was given some much-needed relief as his Manchester United side struck late to take a vital 1-0 win home from Fulham on Saturday.
United made the trip to London off the back of crushing 3-0 defeats to Manchester City and Newcastle United in the Premier League and EFL Cup, respectively. The fallout from the Manchester derby defeat at Old Trafford was particularly bruising not just for Ten Hag, but for a number of his players, with former captain Gary Neville not holding back in his criticism of current skipper Bruno Fernandes, among other players.
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“Bruno [Fernandes] is the captain, he’s walking around and you know what he’s going to do in the last ten minutes, it’s almost like you can read it like a book. He’s going to get booked, he’s going to whinge, kick someone – it’s all for show,” Neville said.
Fernandes gave the perfect response on Saturday, firing home the only goal of the game in the first minute of second-half stoppage time on his 200th appearance as a Manchester United player. In those 200 games, Fernandes has come up with 122 direct goal involvements, scoring 67 and assisting another 55. No player has managed more for the Red Devils during that time, with Marcus Rashford his nearest rival on 89 goal involvements.
Bruno Fernandes has been directly involved in 33 more goals than any other Manchester United player since he made his debut for the club:
◉ 200 games
◉ 67 goals
◉ 55 assists
And he's scored four stoppage time goals. ⏱️ pic.twitter.com/DxIHE0te4V
— Squawka (@Squawka) November 4, 2023
What’s more, that was the Portugal international’s fourth stoppage-time goal for Man Utd in all competitions.
For all the criticisms regarding his captaincy credentials and the perception that he is a ‘set-piece merchant’, Fernandes has made a habit of coming up clutch for Man Utd when they need him most. Is there really a better way to show leadership?
“I don’t understand it because no one is perfect, but he’s doing a lot of things very good,” Ten Hag told TNT Sports post-match, when asked about questions surrounding Fernandes’ captaincy.”He’s shown every time as captain he’s an example.”
Perhaps United finding a response at Craven Cottage of all places shouldn’t come as a surprise. After, this result now extends their winning run at this stadium to 16 Premier League matches, while they’ve won seven in a row here.
Manchester United are now unbeaten in each of their last 16 Premier League games against Fulham:
◉ Goals: 37
◉ Conceded: 12
◉ Clean Sheets: 7
And they’ve won their last seven league games at Craven Cottage.👏 pic.twitter.com/Xsn4MSnulC
— Squawka (@Squawka) November 4, 2023
The manner of the victory shouldn’t be a surprise either, as this was the ninth time that Man Utd have won a Premier League game 1-0 thanks to a goal scored in the 90th minute or later — only Liverpool (10) have done so more.
But it’s also important to point out that prior to Saturday, United hadn’t won three straight Premier League away games since December 2020. Victories over Burnley, Sheffield United and Fulham have now put that stat to bed.
Despite at least temporarily lifting them into the top six, this isn’t a win that will relieve all the pressure around Ten Hag’s Man Utd. All six of their Premier League wins this season have come by a single goal, leaving very little margin for error.
However, so many one-goal victories may also point to a hidden ability for United to show some resilience and get the job done when the chips are down. Something, perhaps, that Ten Hag can hang his hat on and get his players to rally behind.
Captain and match-winner Fernandes gave the perfect rallying call after the match: “We have to build the confidence, but I think the team understand now it is about getting results. We are Manchester United and we have to win every game.”