Manchester United 4-2 Sheffield United

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Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes led from the front to ensure another chaotic performance eventually ended in victory against relegation-threatened Sheffield United at Old Trafford.

With the visitors taking the lead twice, Erik ten Hag’s side were staring at a humiliating loss to a side who have won just three times this season.

But Fernandes levelled from the penalty spot before driving Manchester United in front from 25 yards nine minutes from time.

The Portuguese created a first goal since February for striker Rasmus Hojlund four minutes later to move his side up to sixth spot and earn praise from his manager.

“He showed his leadership,” said Ten Hag.

“He tried to encourage the team and he is also in good form. We put him in the right position and when he is there, he makes the right decisions.

“He can create a lot, score, assist and make key actions. We are very happy with his performance and his attitude.”

Fernandes has now scored seven goals and collected two assists in Manchester United’s past five games.

In total, there have been 27 goals in that period. Manchester United have conceded and scored at least two in all of those games.

In entertainment terms, it is sensational. However, there is zero sense of structure and it can only be wondered what new technical director Jason Wilcox made of it as he watched from the Old Trafford directors’ box for the first time since his appointment was confirmed last week.

Ten Hag had railed against the media the day before the game, labelling critical coverage of his side’s FA Cup semi-final victory on penalties over Coventry “embarrassing” and “a disgrace” – but his team failed to follow up by convincing on the pitch.

Without a win since February, Sheffield United led twice, through Jayden Bogle in the first-half and Ben Brereton Diaz in the second.

Harry Maguire’s deft header pulled the home side level on the first occasion, before Fernandes took control.

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Fernandes the saviour after Onana error

Ten Hag has faced problems of injury and form among his squad in recent weeks. Goalkeeper Andre Onana, during the turbulence, had been a reliable figure.

The Cameroon goalkeeper seemed to have put his poor early-season form behind him. His recent performances had deserved credit, given he has been standing behind one of the Premier League’s leakiest-ever defences in terms of shots allowed to the opposition. A defence that cannot push high has not allowed him the exhibit his full passing range, but he had generally done well.

Against Sheffield United, though, Onana had a moment to forget. In passing the ball towards Diogo Dalot from inside his own six-yard area, the goalkeeper allowed Jayden Bogle to charge on to it. The 23-year-old’s forceful burst took him to within shooting range and he expertly drove his effort into the far corner.

On the touchline, Ten Hag looked a lonely figure.

The Sheffield United fans had some fun at the Dutchman’s expense, as they reminded him they rarely win away from home. To be completely accurate, they have rarely won anywhere this season. The last of their previous three triumphs came at Luton in February.

It is this kind of damage Manchester United cannot stop inflicting on themselves – and it makes winning matches so much harder than necessary.

Even after Maguire had turned home Alejandro Garnacho’s cross to bring them level before the break, they still fell asleep in their own penalty area to gift Sheffield United the lead for a second time.

Fernandes, with two goals and an assist, stepped in to save them. His second, a brilliant 25-yard drive, was the highlight – but the industry that created Hojlund’s goal was worthy of praise as well.

The overall display is not a recipe for sustained success, although after the past few weeks, Ten Hag is probably just grateful to get the win.

A positive night for Blades but still a defeat

In a season of almost unrelenting gloom at Bramall Lane, this represents one of the undoubted high points.

Back in September, the Blades led at Tottenham heading into injury time, but lost. In December, they drew at Aston Villa.

While they almost certainly won’t be back at Old Trafford in the Premier League next season, their supporters will have the memory of a spirited display, tinged with regret that their team could not hold their lead for more than a combined total of 16 minutes and eventually succumbed to Fernandes’ brilliance.

Not that is should come as any surprise. They have now conceded 92 goals, overtaking Derby’s previous record of 89 in a 38-game top flight season. The Premier League record of 100 – set by Swindon in a 42-game season in 1993-94, might yet be passed. They have now conceded 26 goals in their past eight games – and they do not have the class that would allow them to somehow overcome the weakness.

Chris Wilder’s side will be relegated if they lose at Newcastle on Saturday. A draw, and they would effectively still be down because of their vastly inferior goal difference. But whatever the result, the drop is inevitable anyway.

There were positives, chiefly a series of first-half saves from Wes Foderingham and a mature performance from young midfielder Oliver Arblaster, remarkably Sheffield United’s seventh captain of the season.

But their return to the Championship will soon be official. And they don’t really deserve any better.

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