Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag believes he holds onto the support of his players inside the dressing room and on the pitch.
“I knew that and we have seen it again,” the Dutchman said after he had witnessed his side secure a much needed 1-0 win against Fulham at Craven Cottage with a goal from Bruno Fernandes in the extra time of the second half.
At best it was a comedy of errors and at the final whistle Ten Hag was the one laughing. It won’t win any goal of the season competition but after back-to-back 3-0 home defeats to Manchester City and Newcastle United, he will take anything he can get. He can breathe again, until visiting FC Copenhagen in the Champions League on Wednesday.
“It’s a good win, a solid performance,” said Ten Hag, who was without Marcus Rashford because of injury 24 hours after branding his behaviour after the Manchester derby as “unacceptable.”
“Every game, we have to win. I think it was a solid performance and I am pleased with it.
“I am pleased with the spirit of the team and the way we pressed. They play very decent football from the back and we never allowed that. We were very good in pressing and winning second balls, and ball progressing, but it’s clear in the box we have to create more. But I think the composure on the ball was a step up.”
It was a vital win but the performance will do little to calm the concerns of fans who held up a banner before kick-off that read: “play like you mean it.”
This is a team who look capable of losing any game and they could have quite easily lost this, particularly during a spell of Fulham pressure immediately after half-time when Andre Onana had to make good saves from Harry Wilson and then João Palhinha.
Until fishing the ball out of his net in stoppage time, Leno only had to make one save of note from a late Fernandes free kick.
Afterward, Fulham manager Marco Silva was left fuming after watching United score an injury-time winner at Craven Cottage for the second season in a row.
“It’s a really difficult one to take,” Silva said. “We wanted to be the better team and I think we did it. At this level we cannot be punished in the way we were. In 10 seconds, there were three or four mistakes from three or four different players and it’s difficult to understand. It was clearly our fault that we didn’t win the game.”
The question now will be whether Fernandes’ goal can be a platform for United to build on, but Ten Hag is still facing a number of problems. Among them is an inability to score early.
After having a eighth minute McTominay goal ruled out by VAR for offside, their earliest Premier League goal this season stands at 17 minutes against Nottingham Forest when they were already 2-0 down one of only four first-half goals they’ve scored in 11 league games.
Just once have they led at half-time — against Burnley in September and against a Fulham side who haven’t scored in the first half of a league game at home, it was no surprise that it was 0-0 at the break.
Anthony, the second-most expensive player in the club’s history when he signed from Ajax in a £85m deal 18 months ago, is another problem.
The Brazilian winger was substituted early in the second half after a largely anonymous display. As the 23-year-old trudged towards the benches with his number being held up by the fourth official, Rebecca Welch, there were scattered cheers from the visiting fans.