Alejandro Garnacho was the hero as his injury-time strike ensured Manchester United saw off Fulham with a late 2-1 victory on Sunday.
Christian Eriksen tapped home the opener and his first United goal before Daniel James equalised in the second half with a strike against his former club.
Substitute Alejandro Garnacho – who has provided some excellent performances against Aston Villa and Real Sociedad recently – popped up late on to slide in the winner and consolidate United’s grip on fifth before the World Cup break.
Both sides looked vulnerable and uncomfortable out of possession in the early stages but it was United who went ahead as Bruno Fernandes burst into the box and squared for Eriksen, who converted from close range.
Fulham probed, smelling weakness against an away side that had only named eight substitutes, and came close to an equaliser when Harry Wilson latched onto Andreas Pereira’s low cross but saw his effort saved.
Tyrell Malacia was set for a tough afternoon as Fulham smelt blood and set Willian and Antonee Robinson onto the out-of-position Dutchman. He kept his head above water throughout the first half, however, and United even had chances to kill the game before the break. Anthony Martial could only head an inch-perfect cross from Luke Shaw over the crossbar and Eriksen fired wide from a brilliant, low ball again from Fernandes.
Marco Silva’s side had work to do after the break, but a first league win over United since December 2009 wasn’t out of reach, despite the visitors having not yet dropped a point from a winning position this season.
Again, Erik ten Hag’s side spurned a chance to put the game to bed moments into the second half. A missed block saw a floated ball fall into Anthony Elanga’s pass, but his tame shot wasn’t enough to beat Bernd Leno. Marcus Rashford followed in the rebound, but could only win a corner for his efforts.
As they have done with regularity this season, Fulham went in search of an equaliser and weren’t afraid to commit forward. Just as United looked to exploit them on the break, a loose pass gifted possession back to the hosts. Willian burst down the right flank and released Tom Cairney, who rifled a ball across to substitute and former United man James to slot home at the back post.
Strangely, United only seemed to get worse as the game went on, with a scattergun approach to trying to regain the lead naturally not working out. That was until Garnacho sparked a moment of brilliance at the death, exchanging passes with Eriksen and bursting into the box to slot home an incredibly late winner.
It was a huge strike and another show of the teenager’s credentials to ensure United headed back up north with all three points from a seriously testing affair.
Starting XI – GK: Bernd Leno (7); RB: Bobby Reid (7), CB: Issa Diop (6), CB: Tim Ream (7), LB: Antonee Robinson (7); CM: Joao Palhinha (7), CM: Tom Cairney (7); RW: Harry Wilson (6), AM: Andreas Pereira (6), RW: Willian (7); ST: Carlos Vinicius (6).
SUBS: Daniel James (7), Joshua Onomah (N/A)
GK: David de Gea – 6/10 – Down smartly to deny Carlos Vinicius after 52 minutes; at full stretch to deny Tim Ream from the resulting corner.
RB: Tyrell Malacia – 4/10 – Out of position, he struggled positionally and looked awkward in possession, with his immediate thought being to cut inside onto his left foot. Had trouble containing Willian and was caught in no man’s land for the equaliser.
CB: Victor Lindelof – 6/10 – With no Mitrovic up front for Fulham, deploying the Swede was less of a risk.
CB: Lisandro Martinez – 7/10 – Defenders should not be this composed with a ball at their feet. Goes against every convention ever taught in British Sunday league, but it’s such an asset. Another fine display from the ‘Butcher’.
LB: Luke Shaw – 6/10 – A composed performance on a much more settled left-wing, venturing forward into space well.
DM: Casemiro – 7/10 – Looks more comfortable with every game he plays. Still caught in possession once or twice, but positioned himself strongly to sweep up in front of United’s defence.
DM: Christian Eriksen – 7/10 – Key to United’s build-up play, as usual. Always available for a pass and picked the right positions. Their need for another deep-lying playmaker to alleviate the burden on Eriksen is obvious, as the Dane’s influence waned later on.
RM: Anthony Elanga – 6/10 – Couldn’t provide the same sort of output as Antony. Where the Brazilian stretches the pitch and isolates defenders, Elanga does his best work running in behind. United’s right flank is considerably weaker without their usual duo.
AM: Bruno Fernandes – 8/10 – Sharp, confident, outgoing. Fernandes at his best. He popped up between Fulham’s various defensive gaps and demonstrated his incredible passing range on his 100th Premier League outing.
LM: Marcus Rashford – 6/10 – A more timid performance following weeks of impressive and explosive displays.
ST: Anthony Martial – 6/10 – His hold-up play, technical ability and composure in possession is so key to United being able to sustain attacks and break quickly. Just lacked any clear-cut chances to score himself.
SUB: Scott McTominay (55′ for Elanga) – 5/10 – Didn’t offer the same pace on the counter for United.
SUB: Alejandro Garnacho (72′ for Martial) – 8/10 – Fearless as usual when running at defenders. Paid dividends in the form of a last-minute winner.
Manager: Erik ten Hag – 5/10 – His hands were tied with injuries limiting his options both in the XI and off the bench, but bringing on McTominay when he did felt a little strange.