Erik ten Hag grabbed the microphone and the noise inside Old Trafford reached a crescendo as the Dutchman focused on the final challenge of his first season as Manchester United manager.
“There’s still one game to play,” said Ten Hag, pointing to his assembled team in the center circle. “I’m sure these players will give everything to beat Manchester City next week. If you support us, there’s a very good chance of winning the cup at Old Trafford.
The crowd loved it. Even the anti-Glazer chants that echoed through the stadium moments earlier when David de Gea received his Golden Glove award had died down.
There is a sincere belief that United can return to Wembley on Saturday and add the FA Cup to the Carabao Cup they won there in February.
It was a testament to the manager that so many fans stayed to show their appreciation. A year ago he watched from the stands at Selhurst Park as his new side staggered over the line with a loss to Crystal Palace on the final day. The contrast could hardly be greater.
Manchester United won to finish third in the Premier League after beating Fulham on the final day of the season
Bruno Fernandes (left) scored what turned out to be the second-half winning goal against Fulham at Old Trafford
It’s been a year to the day since Erik ten Hag (right) watched from the stands as they lost to Crystal Palace after being named the club’s new boss
Ten Hag will not be satisfied, of course. He wants to keep improving and challenged the board to support him at their post-match press conference.
“You have to invest otherwise you have no chance because other clubs will,” he said. “We saw it in the winter. All the clubs around us have made huge investments. We didn’t, but we still managed, so I’m proud of my team.
Several players will have made their final United appearances at Old Trafford, but Ten Hag will hope De Gea won’t be one of them as talks continue over a new contract.
“I have to repeat, last game, last week, every time we want him to stay and he wants to stay. We will meet again,’ the United manager said.
Ten Hag credited the Spaniard’s penalty save – his first in eight years at Old Trafford – of Alexandar Mitrovic in the 25th minute with transforming this game. For Mitrovic, it was a miserable return to the pitch where he was sent off along with Willian and manager Marco Silva in the FA Cup in March.
It’s worth noting that as soon as the Serb was booked for tangling with Tyrell Malacia in the 79th minute, Silva substituted his No.9.
“We woke up after the penalty,” said Ten Hag. “The intensity increased and we caused problems for Fulham.”
After following Kenny Tete’s header, goals from Jadon Sancho and Bruno Fernandes sent United into the Cup final on a high.
Fulham led first through Kenny Tete’s goal which saw him beat David de Gea at the near post after a Fulham corner
United could have been down two if David de Gea (right) saved Aleksandar Mitrovic’s penalty in the first half
MATCH FACTS AND RATINGS
MAN UTD (4-2-3-1): De Gea 8; Dalot 6, Maguire 6.5, Lindelof 7, Malacia 6.5; Casemiro 6 (McTominay 67.6), Fred 7 (Eriksen 67.6); Sancho 7, Fernandes 7 (Pellistri 84), Garnacho 6 (Martial 67, 6); Rashford 5.5 (Weghorst 77.5). Replacements: Varane, Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Butland.
Scorers: Sancho 39, Fernandes 55
Director: Erik ten Hag 7
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): leno 7; Head 7, Adarabioyo 6, Diop 5, Robinson 6.5; Lukic 6 (Reid 66, 6), Palhinha 7; Wilson 6.5 (Solomon 66, 6), Cairney 6.5 (James 80), Willian 7; Mitrovic 5 (Vinicius 80). Replacements: Rodak, Reed, Kebano, Cédric, Dibley-Dias.
Scorer: Head 19
Reserve: Palhinha, Mitrovic
Director: Marc Silva 6
Arbitrator: Robert Jones 7
Only five of their starting line-up were guaranteed to start at Wembley, and there was positive news regarding the two players who were injured in Thursday’s win over Chelsea.
Luke Shaw was fit enough to take the bench and Ten Hag revealed Antony’s ankle injury may not be as bad as feared after the Brazilian was taken away in tears.
“We all saw how it came out on Thursday, so it’s pretty early, but we think it’s not that bad,” Ten Hag said. “He will probably be available for the Cup final.”
United got off to a good start and Bernd Leno was called into action twice in the opening 10 minutes, coming off a punch from Fred and then turning Marcus Rashford’s free-kick over the bar.
But Fulham took the lead here in the cup in March from a corner, and they did it again here in the 19th minute. William swung the ball at the near post where Rashford was supposed to score Tete, but he had given the Fulham right-back far too much space. Tete took full advantage as he rose to nod inside the near post to De Gea for his first goal of the season.
The Londoners should have doubled their lead six minutes later. United ran back as the visitors parted from the pitch, and Casemiro knocked Tom Cairney into the box with his back leg.
Jadon Sancho (medium red top) brought United level after netting a shot past Fulham goalkeeper Bernd Leno (yellow top)
United skipper Harry Maguire has started what could prove to be his last appearance for the club after a difficult season for the defender.
Manchester United have shown great progress under Ten Hag securing their Champions League return next season
Mitrovic, who was banned for eight games for pushing referee Chris Kavanagh when he was sent off here in March, suffered more misery when De Gea saved his penalty. The United keeper was already diving to his left as the Serbia striker placed the ball too far inside the post and high which also made it easier to save.
It was only the eighth penalty in De Gea’s United career, so his joy was understandable. He chased the ball out of play and kicked it high into the Stretford End in celebration.
United knew they had to react and fight back immediately. Rashford and then Alejandro Garnacho shot inches wide just seconds apart. Garnacho wrapped up another effort against the bar.
The equalizer came six minutes before half-time after Fernandes held off Sasa Lukic and pushed the ball for Fred. The Brazilian was sent sprawling into the box through the combined efforts of Tete and Tosin Adarabioyo but he didn’t even have time to appeal for a penalty as the ball raced towards Sancho who hit it from close range in front of Leno.
United should have taken the lead within two minutes of the restart when Issa Diop and Adarabioyo allowed Casemiro’s long ball to bounce towards goal and Rashford was suddenly in. .
Home fans didn’t have to wait long for a second goal, however. Fred was the creator with a sublime reverse pass, and Fernandes timed his run perfectly. He took a throw-in before tossing the ball past Leno as he rushed out of his goal.
Ten Hag was able to make substitutions outside Wembley and one of the substitutes, Wout Weghorst, wasted a great chance to score a third towards the end. Weghorst will be another who is unlikely to return in August as Ten Hag continues to sound the changes. But so far so good, and it could be even better.