the fiThe first signs of spring were met with a sudden blast of winter at Old Trafford, and the green shoots of Manchester United’s recovery were trampled by an effervescent Fulham.
Erik ten Hag’s side were on a run of six wins and one draw in seven games in 2024, but it was halted by Fulham’s first Premier League win here in 17 tries dating back 21 years to 2003. This was also the The Londoners’ first away victory in the league since the opening day of the season after Alex Iwobi fired in a dramatic winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time.
Ten Hag said before this game that this week’s injuries to top scorer Rasmus Hojlund and Luke Shaw would not dampen United’s attacking threat, but who was he kidding?
A team that had scored 17 goals in those seven games this year was once again one that averaged a goal per game in the previous 18.
The injuries that have once again blighted United’s season – Lisandro Martínez is another recent casualty who joined Mason Mount, Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrell Malacia on the bench – are in danger of ruining their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and discard Ten. Hag in very dangerous waters at the end of the season.
Alex Iwobi scored the winning goal in the 97th minute to give Fulham a shock 2-1 victory at Old Trafford.
Harry Maguire thought he had saved a point when he scored in the 89th minute for United.
However, this was not enough for Erik ten Hag’s team, which remains three points behind the top four.
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Sir Jim Ratcliffe was less than optimistic when discussing the Dutchman’s future after his £1.3bn investment was completed this week, and a top-four finish could be the dividing line. Ratcliffe wasn’t here, but Sir Dave Brailsford was, and what he saw will not have impressed him. He won’t need to be reminded that the next league game is against Manchester City next weekend.
Ten Hag’s team selection certainly caused a stir. With Marcus Rashford switching forward to replace Hojlund, the United boss turned to teenager Omari Forson in place of £86million man Antony to play on the right.
Handing Forson his full debut was a huge vote of confidence in a youngster who had played just seven minutes of football in three appearances off the bench this season, which included an assist on Kobbie Mainoo’s final goal of the game-winner against Wolves.
But it was also a huge snub for Antony on his 24th birthday and a reflection of the fact that the Brazilian winger had not contributed a goal or assist in 19 league games this season.
“He (Forson) deserves the job,” Ten Hag said. ‘He’s been performing very well lately. Over the last half year he has worked very hard and has shown his progression.
‘When he faced Wolves and Newport he had a certain impact. For example, in Kobbie Mainoo’s goal, he had a good connection and a good run back. That’s what we expect from him. He showed reliability and now he has the opportunity for him, so he has to take advantage of it.”
United struggled to find their flow in a first half in which Fulham threatened to catch them on the break time and time again.
It almost happened in the 14th minute, when in-form striker Rodrigo Muniz rose above Raphael Varane to head a long ball forward and suddenly Iwobi scored.
However, the former Arsenal and Everton winger lacked composure and brushed against the post before hitting the exact same spot when Andreas Pereira slid a pass into his path four minutes later as United opened up again.
When Fulham broke away from a United corner after Sasa Lukic slotted the ball in from a limp Rashford challenge, a corner ensued. the other end and almost a goal. André Onana saved when Muñiz arrived first again, and Lukic would have scored if his first touch had not been so strong.
Calvin Bassey gave Marco Silva’s side a surprise lead after 65 minutes before Maguire equalized.
Maguire was lucky to stay after a clumsy foul on Sasa Lukic, for which he was booked.
United’s first real chance did not come until the 27th minute, when Fulham failed to take advantage of a free kick after a foul by Tosin Adarabioyo on an increasingly lively Garnacho.
The young Argentine winger worked the space for a shot going in until Antonee Robinson produced a great header from a clearance, and the loose ball eventually fell to Harry Maguire who deflected it away.
The pace of the game was quickening as the two teams exchanged blows. Diogo Dalot hit the outside of the post from 20 yards and Muniz did the same at the other end as he turned Victor Lindelof to fire onto the post. Onana deflected Pereira’s curler after Fulham broke again following Casemiro’s error, and Bernd Leno deflected Garnacho’s curler.
Maguire was lucky that his challenge on Lukic was not a little higher than the Serb’s shin in the 36th minute. It was more clumsy than malicious, but the yellow card might as well have been red.
Iwobi and Pereira were booked as Garnacho continued to torment them, and Harry Wilson became the fourth Fulham player to be booked for fouling United’s number 17.
Ten Hag waited until eight minutes into the second half to make changes. One was forced after Casemiro butted heads with Harrison Reed and made way for Scott McTominay. The other was tactical, since Christian Eriksen replaced Forson, who had a quiet debut.
United were on a run of six wins and a draw in 2024, but Fulham gave them something to think about
But it was Fulham who almost broke through in the 57th minute when Dalot was deflected off the ball by Muniz midway and Fulham moved forward again on the counterattack. Iwobi fed Robinson on the overlap and Lindelof did enough to prevent Pereira from unleashing a low cross from close range.
The Fulham fans did not have to wait much longer for the goal as Oana was forced to deflect after a Reed cross almost scored in the 64th minute. Pereira launched a corner kick from the right and Calvin Bassey’s first shot went straight to teammate Timothy Castagne. However, the loose ball went past the Nigerian defender and he crashed it into the roof of the net. It had become fair.
United were roused from their post-interval slumber. Rashford went close and Maguire planted a deflected header from Eriksen’s corner. Ten Hag sent Amad Diallo for Kobbie Mainoo, again ignoring Antony.
The equalizer came in the 89th minute when Maguire tried to cross from the right and beat him. Fernandes recovered the ball and taunted Castagne before shooting. Leno could only parry it and Maguire converted from close range.
The match began and at that point I would have imagined United would win after referee Michael Oliver added nine minutes of stoppage time.
Fulham has 32 points and is just three clear of the top half, achieving its first Premier League victory at Old Trafford since 2003.
But in the seventh of those minutes, Fulham snatched the victory. The play began on their own dead ball line when Adarabioyo cleared the field.
It was the turn of substitute Adam Traoré and the powerful winger headed towards the goal. United’s defense retreated as he passed the ball to Iwobi, who cut inside Dalot and Diallo to bury his shot from 15 yards.
This time there was no turning back for Ten Hag’s side. Many more mistakes like this and the same will have to be said for his hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.