Bruno Fernandes came up with a captain’s goal to crown a spirited team performance, as Manchester United beat Fulham away in the Premier League thanks to late drama for the second consecutive campaign.
Just when it seemed Erik ten Hag’s side would be consigned to a first draw since April, Fernandes popped up to punish some slack defending by the hosts and drill a low shot towards goal that had so much velocity, it could only be pushed into the bottom corner of his net by Cottagers goalkeeper Bernd Leno.
Coming in injury time at the end of a lively second half, Bruno’s blow – on the occasion of his 200th United appearance – proved decisive and who knows, it could yet turn out to be pivotal as the Reds look to turn things around in what has been a troubled term so far.
After the absences of Casemiro and Marcus Rashford were both confirmed within the last 24 hours to kick-off, the last thing Erik ten Hag needed to see was another player suffering an injury. But that was the situation inside the first two minutes, when Harry Maguire went down in worrying fashion after taking a blow to the head in a challenge with Fulham’s Brazilian forward Rodrigo Muniz.
United’s medical staff were swiftly on the scene and following their treatment, the England centre-back was passed fit to play on. As if galvanised by this good news, the Reds went on to find the net first, through that man Scott McTominay once again, only to have what would have been a deserved opener ruled out.
The in-form Scotland midfielder, who scored both the injury-time equaliser and winner when the Reds recently came from behind to beat Fulham’s west London neighbours Brentford, was unfortunate not to notch again after Alejandro Garnacho squared a ball into his path from Bruno Fernandes’s free-kick. Maguire was deemed to be offside in the build-up but it was far from clearcut; it took a frustratingly long time for the Stockley Park officials and referee John Brooks to eventually make their decision.
The disallowed goal and the best save of the half – Andre Onana brilliantly denying Harry Wilson – both came in the first 15 minutes. But if we felt those moments would set the entertainment level for the next half-hour or so, we were to be left disappointed by the ensuing action. As can sometimes happen with the lunchtime kick-offs, neither side could really get into their stride. United edged the contest in terms of possession but Bruno Fernandes’s tame attempt to score from range, comfortably gathered by Cottagers goalkeeper Bernd Leno, was the only shot on target.
If both managers delivered a rallying cry in their respective dressing rooms, it seemed to have the desired effect as the game suddenly opened up into an end-to-end affair – albeit with most of the action coming at the Hammersmith End being defended by Ten Hag’s men.
Garnacho initially carried the greatest threat after the interval. The young Argentinian, who scored an important goal here last season and seemed to have assisted another one for McTominay in the first half, fashioned a couple of opportunities on the left but was thwarted by Leno and the Fulham back four. In response, the Cottagers pushed United back, forcing several corners and drawing some excellent stops from Onana. Two in quick succession kept out Wilson again and Palhinha, while Diogo Dalot was well-positioned to clear another attempt off the line.
With South Americans peppered throughout the personnel, Ten Hag introduced another one for the game’s first change. Uruguayan winger Facundo Pellistri came on for Brazil’s Antony and produced his first shot on target within minutes, although a diving Leno was equal to it.
McTominay netted from Garnacho’s ball in the first half but the grounded Maguire was ruled offside.
Sensing the opportunity to secure a smash-and-grab win by the Thames for the second season in a row, the Reds boss sent on the fresh attacking legs of Mason Mount and Anthony Martial for the last 10 minutes or so, and withdrew the industrious Danish duo Christian Eriksen and Rasmus Hojlund.
Martial almost produced a moment of magic, when his acrobatic effort from Dalot’s left-wing cross flew just wide of the right-hand post. Leno could afford to watch that one but he had to be on his toes just beforehand, to push away a stinging Fernandes free-kick.
Thankfully, Bruno won his next battle with Leno, beating the German shot-stopper with a driven strike after Fulham fluffed several chances to clear their lines under pressure from Pellistri, who can claim the assist, and McTominay.
With 90+1 on the clock, the hosts were vanquished and the visitors could head back to Manchester with a vital three points on the Premier League board.