Premier League English

Finally a rare good day for Ten Hag with Newcastle win to temporarily stay his execution

Good days are indeed few and far in between for Man United’s manager in the hot seat Erik ten Hag as his side actually managed to avert the disastrous consequences of crashing out to another rival.

The heavily beleaguered United manager enjoyed a rare good day as his side pulled off an unexpected upset to beat the Magpies 3-2 at Old Trafford on Wednesday and the immensely relieved Dutchman can only keep his fingers crossed for a one last one before his miserable season draws to an end, in possibly more disastrous ways than he would hope for.

Debate and speculation have been swirling like a whirlpool around the Dutchman’s position as manager, so his side winning a Premier League game for just the third time in nine league games spread over nearly three months – thanks to goals from Kobie Mainoo, Amad Diallo and Rasmus Højlund, with Ten Hag also glad to welcome back Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Lisandro Martinez from injury – is indeed an occasion to rejoice for the United boss.

Ten Hag’s side are battling to secure a seventh place finish in the Premier League to help them secure a place in next season’s UEFA Conference League. United will qualify for the Europa League if they win the FA Cup final against Manchester City on May 25, but a City triumph at Wembley will mean that seventh-placed United will settle for a Conference League spot. And eighth-placed United are still in the hunt for that place after beating Newcastle to move level on points with the seventh-placed Magpies.

However, United’s goal difference is vastly inferior to Newcastle’s, meaning they must better the Magpies’ result in the last game of the season.

Whether or not any of this will be enough to keep the noose away from Ten Hag’s neck, only new club investors Sir Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS know.

“It is a victory and I was pleased with the performance of the team,” said Ten Hag.

“It’s always difficult to play against Newcastle, they are very physical, but also we played good football, scored good goals, especially the first. It was a nice team goal. We get some players back, we have now more players available and you have a bench.”

Notably also, for once, his post-match news conference was largely positive.

Thanks to Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Brighton on Wednesday, Man United can only realistically rise as high as seventh in the table, which would still represent their worst finish in the Premier League era.

A record 10th competitive home defeat on their last Old Trafford outing of the season would have left Ten Hag even more disparagingly battered and bruised and now he will take whatever small wins wherever and whenever he can.

However, despite the win, there were still parts of the performance that raised more questions than answers, such as the reason it has taken so long to give 21-year-old Amad Diallo a chance considering that the Ivorian delivered Man United’s moment of the season with an extra time FA Cup winner against Liverpool in March. Yet for this achievement he’s had to wait another two months for a Premier League start, where he most creditably delivered an assist for Mainoo and then unleashed a thunderous strike himself.

“Amad has had a difficult season because of a bad injury,” explained Ten Hag as he tried to proffer a feeble excuse.

“He fought back and his performances in training and progress has been very good. Now he got his chance and has taken his opportunity. That’s how it should work. There is always internal competition and I am very pleased with his level.”

What a lame excuse to cover up for his persistent loyalty to his favorite, vastly-underperforming £85-million-signing Antony. Thankfully for United, leaving the inept, misfiring Brazilian on the bench provided the opportunity for Amad to amply demonstrate his ability and talent, hopefully enough to start at Wembley against Manchester City in the FA Cup final on May 25.

And, coincidentally as if to emphasise the point, the stadium began singing “Amad Diallo” midway through the second half, followed with very rare support for the United manager and chants of “we’re on the march with Ten Hag’s army”. For the young Ivorian, most timely. For the Dutchman, most rare indeed!

With the majority of fans largely undecided about whether he should be allowed to carry on next season, securing a precious victory at this crucial stage against a formidable opponent like Newcastle has bought him a breather after a deplorably appalling run of form since end-February.

After the final whistle against Newcastle, an obviously desperate Ten Hag delivered a speech to the fans from the center of the pitch, promising ardently that “these players will do everything to win the cup.” The effort was well received and after a lap around the stadium, the Dutchman walked down the tunnel to applause from the supporters who had stayed behind.

“The whole season, for the fans, it is a very difficult season,” admitted Ten Hag afterwards. “We are very pleased with the attitude of the fans.”

Well, most pertinently, whether or not this this still makes a difference to the hawk-eyed Ratcliffe remains largely to be seen.