Bruno Fernandes strikes late against Fulham to end Manchester United slump
The Red Devils survived a nervy 90 minutes to claim three points at the death.
Manchester United got back to winning ways after a nervy victory over Fulham at Craven Cottage on Saturday as skipper Bruno Fernandes struck in the first minute of stoppage time to secure a narrow 1-0 win.
Erik ten Hag’s side travelled to west London under enormous pressure and gave an underwhelming display, with Fulham arguably having the better of the chances, but a moment of brilliance from Fernandes at the death saw United move up to sixth place in the Premier League table despite their struggles.
The Red Devils had lost back-to-back home matches going into Saturday’s game, beaten 3-0 by both Manchester City and Newcastle, and Ten Hag made six changes from his side’s midweek Carabao Cup exit.
Marcus Rashford was the most notable absentee after failing a late fitness test in the morning, with Ten Hag at pains to stress that his winger’s non-selection was nothing to do with his ‘unacceptable’ decision to go out and celebrate his birthday just hours after the derby defeat last weekend.
United made a relatively bright start to the match and thought they had taken the lead when Christian Eriksen floated a deep free-kick to the back post and Alejandro Garnacho squared brilliantly for Scott McTominay to tap in.
However, after a lengthy VAR check referee John Brooks was sent to the monitor to decide whether the offside Harry Maguire – who had reached out to try and get a touch on the ball just before Garnacho – had interfered significantly enough to rule out the goal.
Brooks decided he had in what was described as a ‘subjective offside’ call and the play was brought back, prompting a furious reaction from United’s players and Ten Hag; the latter made his feelings clear to Rebecca Welch, who was making history as the first female fourth official in Premier League history.
After that early scare Fulham started to grow into the match and began to find space on the counter – particularly in behind a somewhat fragile and porous holding midfield partnership of McTominay and Eriksen – but continuously failed to pick out the right final pass.
In the 40th minute there were chants of ‘Attack, attack, attack!’ from the travelling supporters, with United having had 62% possession but just one shot on target – a long-range sighter.
Fulham finished the half stronger, again transitioning quickly but struggling to get a clean shot away. A flurry of corners all required good defensive headers, while Willian had Andre Onana scrambling across his line with a curling effort that drifted just wide of the far post.
Despite a flat and tame display, Ten Hag chose to stick with his line-up and made no changes at the break, with the side showing a little more intent after the restart. Garnacho was the main bright spark, darting down the left flank and testing Bernd Leno twice.
Fulham remained a threat on the break and Willian had three opportunities in quick succession to try and produce an opening goal. The Brazilian saw his pull-back cleared by some last-ditch defending, then had two efforts from the edge of the box – one was deflected, the other shanked wide.
There was a curious moment on the hour-mark when referee Brooks stopped play so United’s medical team could take a look at Maguire. The centre-back had taken a blow to the head early on but continued despite being dazed. A headed clearance in the second half seemed to rattle him again, but still he was not withdrawn.
With Maguire seemingly struggling, it was as if Fulham suddenly smelt blood. Harry Wilson forced Onana into a solid save with a long-range curler and Andreas Pereira was inches away from getting on the end of the rebound.
A slipped through-ball then played in Palhinha, but his effort was saved, and from the resulting corner an unmarked Calvin Bassey poked a tame effort towards goal that was booted off the line. Fulham were all over United now and again they went close from a corner, but Rodrigo Muniz headed over the bar.
After an ineffective outing, Antony was subbed off to a chorus of boos from the United end and youngster Facundo Pellistri only needed a few minutes on the pitch to show more intent than the £85million man, chesting down Eriksen’s clipped pass and forcing a low save out of Leno.
As United sought a late winner, Ten Hag took off marquee summer signing Rasmus Hojlund – who had been feeding on scraps – for Anthony Martial; the former looked livid with the decision, while the substitution was jeered by the travelling fans.
Yet the Frenchman nearly scored with his first touch, attempting an audacious flick from Garnacho’s cross that floated just wide of the far post. After Fulham’s spell of pressure, they now looked content just to cling on for a draw and it was United who dominated the closing stages.
They secured a breakthrough just as the fourth official held up his board to show five minutes of added time after Fulham failed to clear their lines on three occasions.
Fernandes initially tried to slip in McTominay and when the ball returned to him he took matters into his own hands; the captain feinted to shoot on his left foot, cut back inside onto his right and then fired an effort around Tim Ream which found the bottom corner via the palm of Leno.
It felt just a tad harsh on Fulham, who had enough opportunities to take the lead in the contest, but it is a massive result for United and particularly their under-pressure manager Ten Hag. Some relief, at last, from the negativity.
For more stories like this, check our sport page.