ERIK TEN HAG was left jumping for joy as Alejandro Garnacho’s last-gasp winner against Fulham saw Manchester United head into the mid-season break on a high.
It took United just 14 minutes to establish their authority when Casemiro robbed Fulham captain Tom Cairney on the halfway line and Christian Eriksen released Anthony Martial in the left channel.
Bruno Fernandes’ eyes lit up when he when he was played in by Martial on the edge of the area but his hopes of glory were dashed when his shot clipped the heel of Issa Diop,
No matter, though, as Eriksen had continued his run from deep as the ball deflected perfectly into his path for him to slide in at the back post.
Fulham, though, were not just going to roll over and accept their fate and Joao Palhinha brought the whole of Craven Cottage to its feet with a thunderous challenge on Anthony Elanga.
No wonder Cristiano Ronaldo decided to give this one a miss rather than face his uncompromising Portuguese compatriot so soon before heading to Qatar.
And Palhinha’s defiance rubbed off on his Fulham team-mates as they looked to force their way back into contention.
Willian cut in from the left to curl one just the wrong side of the far post but made a complete mess of an attempted volley later on when he shanked his shot high into the United fans behind the goal.
Harry Wilson’s 26th minute long ranger was beaten away by the flying David De Gea before Martial squandered the chance to extend United’s lead when he headed over from Luke Shaw’s pinpoint cross.
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Eriksen missed an even better opportunity in first-half stoppage time, firing wide from right in front of goal after being set up by another low cross into the danger zone from Fernandes.
The United captain was pulling all the strings in the middle of the park and played in Elanga with another peach of a pass shortly after the break.
But the young Swede’s low shot was too close to Fulham keeper Bernd Leno and Marcus Rashford was too slow to react to the follow-up opportunity.
That lack of a killer edge almost came back to haunt United when De Gea was forced into two magnificent reaction saves in the space of a minute, the first from Carlos Vinicius’ vicious shot on the turn and then from Tim Ream’s point blank header.
But there was to be no escape in the 61st minute when Fulham deservedly levelled through sub Dan James with virtually his first kick of the match.
There seemed little danger when Fernandes lost possession high up the pitch attempting to keep Eriksen’s wayward pass in play.
But the ball was quickly transferred to the other end by Antonee Robinson and Willian before Cairney crossed and former United winger James forced his way between Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez to smash home.
Garnacho then came on in the 72nd minute as he looked to help his team cross the finish line in style.
And he emerged as United’s saviour with just seconds left as he darted between Fulham’s defenders before firing home with a deft finish.