Erik ten Hag hails United’s spirit as they hit back to win after ‘horror start’

Erik ten Hag was delighted by his players’ response to their “horror start” as Manchester United overcame a two-goal deficit to beat 10-man Nottingham Forest.

After stumbling to victory against Wolves in their Premier League opener and seeing a fine start fade in last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham, things unravelled in the opening four minutes at Old Trafford.

Taiwo Awoniyi scored a decent opener on the break just 86 seconds after kick-off and Willy Boly added another in the fourth minute – the earliest United have ever trailed by two in a Premier League game.

But they dug deep and pulled one back through Christian Eriksen, with Casemiro equalising after the break and Bruno Fernandes scoring a spot-kick to decide the contest shortly after Forest’s Joe Worrall was dismissed.

Ten Hag said with a wink: “We want to give the fans something, eh? Of course it is a horror start, giving them two goals and making mistakes.

“But I am very pleased with the comeback, with the leadership, how we stayed calm and composed.

“We stick to the plans, stick to the belief and turn it around and I think we played in the meantime very good football out of our plan and out of our principles and rules. We scored good goals.”

Asked if he views the comeback win more positively than negatively, the Dutchman said: “I think every team in the start (of the season) have areas where they have to improve.

“Definitely we have also some and we have to progress there if you want to be successful.

“But also you see this team has big character, big personality, there is a very good spirit in this team, there is energy and they found a way to win so, for today, big compliment for the team.”

Fernandes, appointed captain in the summer, was at the heart of United’s comeback.

Manchester United v Nottingham Forest – Premier League – Old Trafford
Bruno Fernandes, nearest camera, impressed for United (Nick Potts/PA)

The skipper provided the assist for Casemiro’s leveller, drew the foul that saw Worrall sent off and fired home the match-winning penalty a week on from being criticised for his role in the Spurs loss.

“I think in almost all the aspects, moments of football, he played a very good game at the highest level,” Ten Hag said. “Keeping calm, for instance, emotions under control but in the right moment using his emotions.

“He was brilliant in attacking, making the difference, so (I’m) very pleased with his performance.”

Ten Hag is unsure whether Raphael Varane has suffered a noteworthy injury having come off at half-time due to “complaints” and was coy about Dean Henderson’s future.

Arrivals at Trafford Training Centre
Manchester United goalkeeper Dean Henderson could be leaving the club (Jacob King/PA)

The PA news agency understand the goalkeeper is travelling to Crystal Palace for a medical despite the terms of the deal yet to be ironed out, with Fenerbahce’s Altay Bayindir lined up as replacement.

Palace sporting director Dougie Freedman was in the Old Trafford directors’ box and Henderson waited outside the away dressing room to see former Forest team-mates after Saturday’s match.

The goalkeeper spent last season on loan under Steve Cooper, who was left aggrieved by some of the decision-making on Saturday but said he was “biting my tongue”.

Steve Cooper File Photo
There was frustration for Steve Cooper and Forest (Nick Potts/PA)

“I just think in games like these, you need a bit of… I don’t even want to say good luck to go your way, you just want things to be as they should,” the Forest manager said.

“I think on the decisions, I am not going to talk too much because I don’t want to get into trouble.

“But the only thing I was surprised about is how quickly the decisions were made at that moment in time.

“I think you sort of see now on decisions that can define a game, you tend to see referees take a bit more time, particularly at the top, top level. I was just really surprised looking at it, how quick it all happened.

“Of course there was a decision to be made, I understand that, and it’s plain to see on the cameras and I’m hearing what everyone is saying.

“But I was just surprised how quickly the officials sort of (decided). It was split-second stuff, wasn’t it?”