Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag sung the praises of captain Bruno Fernandes after the Portuguese playmaker secured a vital 1-0 Premier League win with last-gasp strike on Saturday.
Fernandes had been under fire after some petulant displays in United’s worst start to a season since 1962 with former players Gary Neville and Roy Keane his chief critics and suggesting he lacked leadership qualities.
But with a 0-0 draw looming that would have done little to take the pressure off Ten Hag, Fernandes showed great composure to place a laser-like shot inside the post to nick the points.
“So often from the moment I made him captain he did this,” Ten Hag told reporters. “He’s always making the example the way he presses, the counter pressing. He takes responsibility all the time and besides his important goals he’s always wanting the ball and trying to create.”
While the points were welcome after successive 3-0 home defeats in all competitions by Manchester City and Newcastle United, it was hardly an impressive display by United who were fortunate not to be behind in the second half as Fulham pressed.
But the victory at least means they can go to Copenhagen in the Champions League next week with a spring in their step.
“It was a good win and a solid performance,” Ten Hag said. “I’m pleased with it and the team sprit and the way we pressed. Fulham play decent football from the back but we didn’t allow that and we won a lot of second balls.”
England central defender Harry Maguire, who Ten Hag relieved of the captaincy in favour of Fernandes last year, was a rock at the heart of United’s defence, with the United manager describing his display as “massive”.
Fernandes also praised Maguire who twice needed treatment during the game but battled on.
“He was good, he was important for us today with the long balls. But we also need to give credit to Jonny (Evans) as well and Rafael (Varane) when he came on, he was ready to fight.
“Everyone has been important, I don’t want to focus too much on one player but everyone has been too critical of Harry and he’s doing really well now. I hope he can stay at this level.”
Ten Hag said United now needed to seize the momentum from Saturday’s win.
“We were not happy with our standards but today we improved. We have to bring that every game,” he said. “We have to bring that level and the right attitude and mentality, passion and desire. When we do that we have a good recipe.”