Bruno Fernandes (C) celebrates scoring | AFP
Southampton: Manchester United’s stand-in captain Bruno Fernandes made it back-to-back wins for Erik ten Hag’s team by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Southampton in the Premier League on Saturday.
Wearing the captain’s armband in place of the still-benched Harry Maguire, Fernandes steered in a cross from Diogo Dalot in the 55th minute as United followed up Monday’s win over Liverpool with another morale-boosting performance.
Having started the season with two straight losses — including a 4-0 drubbing at Brentford — United has now won consecutive league matches for the first time since February.
It was also the team’s first clean sheet of the season, thanks in part to David de Gea’s reflex save to keep out a header from Joe Aribo in the 66th.
It's a result that will give a bit more breathing space to Ten Hag, the Dutch manager who faced a torrent of criticism and skepticism after the team’s dismal start to the campaign.
“It’s a massive three points for us,” Fernandes said. "We have to carry on for the rest of the season. This is what this club demands. All the players know that, after Liverpool everyone could feel it. We set the standard (against Liverpool) so we have to carry on and go with this standard and, if we can, improve it.”
Ten Hag’s decisions to leave Maguire and star forward Cristiano Ronaldo on the bench were vindicated once again, with center-back pairing Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane looking solid in defense.
United did struggle to create quality chances in the first half, although Ten Hag was shaking his head in disbelief that his team didn’t go ahead in the 20th minute when they had three shots on goal from close range in the span of a few seconds.
Anthony Elanga’s effort from a tight angle was saved by goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu before Fernandes and Christian Eriksen both had their follow-up shots blocked by diving defenders.
Southampton had its best first-half chance on the half-hour mark when a corner fell to Armel Bella-Kotchap at the back post, but he lifted it over the crossbar.
United started stronger in the second half and got the goal after a well-worked move down the right flank. Dalot lifted a cross into the area and Fernandes was on hand to sidefoot it inside the far post.
Ronaldo and United's new signing Casemiro — the Portugal star's former teammate at Real Madrid — both came on in the second half.
Substitute Sekou Mara had two chances to equalize for Southampton in injury time, but his spectacular overhead kick was blocked by Dalot and he sidefooted another effort wide of the post a minute later.
“I was satisfied, at the start of the game we could have created more," Ten Hag said. "It’s tough, you have to get into the season, fight, battle and we did that. Then you get rewarded. It’s next steps, there is room for improvement.” ap