Erik ten Hag said Scott McTominay’s stoppage time double to ease Manchester United’s crisis by beating Brentford 2-1 has to be a turning point in a troubled season.
United looked set to slump to a seventh defeat in 10 games after Mathias Jensen opened the scoring with the aid of some more poor goalkeeping by Andre Onana.
A third home defeat in eight days would have ratcheted up the pressure on Ten Hag, but he found an unlikely hero in McTominay.
The midfielder was only introduced on 87 minutes by Ten Hag, but reproduced his fine goalscoring form for Scotland of late for his club at just the right moment.
“This has to be the turning point, the reset, in our approach, our attitudes, as a team and as individuals,” said Ten Hag, who substituted stars Casemiro and Marcus Rashford in the second-half.
“From the start of a game you have to believe. The fans believed and kept behind us, we need to match that.”
Despite United’s terrible form of late, McTominay has had to be patient for his chance to shine and Ten Hag hailed his attitude to make a difference when called upon.
“Scott came into the game with the right attitude, on the front foot, full of energy. He was so determined to score that he made the luck,” added the Dutch coach.
“He is Manchester United, he always fights for the badge, for the shirt and the club. He will give his life.
“That attitude has to be for everyone. You have to earn the right to play for the club, the position demands it. That is not always what we have seen in the last few weeks.”
Victory lifts United up to ninth, but more importantly stops the rot after embarrassing home defeats to Crystal Palace and Galatasaray.
Ten Hag’s task was not helped by a mounting injury list in defence with Raphael Varane’s absence adding to the unavailable Lisandro Martinez, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Tyrell Malacia and Sergio Reguilon.
The out-of-favour Harry Maguire was paired alongside 35-year-old Jonny Evans in central defence as a result.
But it was United’s under-fire goalkeeper who was the culprit for the opening goal.
Jensen’s low effort should have been kept out by Onana as the ball slipped through his right hand.
The Cameroonian goalkeeper, signed from Inter Milan for £47 million ($57 million) in July, has made glaring errors as United have also lost their opening two Champions League group games for the first time.
That lack of confidence carried over into Premier League action and United looked set to suffer a repeat of last weekend’s 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace as they laboured in the search for an equaliser.
Rashford looks a shadow of the player that scored 30 goals last season and there were cheers from the home crowd when he was sacrificed for Alejandro Garnacho just after the hour mark.
Ten Hag also sent a message by replacing the out-of-form Casemiro for the second period.
Antony was introduced for the final half hour for the first time in the Premier League since he returned from a leave of absence to confront allegations of domestic abuse.
But it was another substitute who might have turned United’s season around.
McTominay thought he had been denied his moment of glory when his first effort to find the net was ruled out for offside against Anthony Martial, who touched Garnacho’s cross into his path.
Brentford goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha was making his Premier League debut and did not cover himself in glory, undoing all of Brentford’s good work late on.
Firstly, he spilled Diogo Dalot’s shot and McTominay skillfully controlled and smashed home the loose ball.
Strakosha could also have done better with the winner as he failed to claw out McTominay’s header from Maguire’s flick-on, sparking manic scenes of celebration among the home fans.
Azam Khan escapes penalty as PCB waives off fine
Azam Khan’s 50 per cent fine imposed by match officials has been reviewed and waived off by the Pakistan Cricket Board.
The Karachi Whites wicketkeeper-batter was fined 50 per cent of his match fee for being found guilty of committing a level-I offence during his side’s National T20 Cup 2023-24 match against Lahore Blues at National Bank Stadium, Karachi.
Azam was found to have violated Article 2.4 of the PCB Code of Conduct For Players and Players Support Personnel for repeated failure to comply with the instruction or directive of an Umpire during a Match.
Players and team officials are not permitted to wear, display or otherwise convey personal messages on their equipment unless approved in advance by both player or team official’s cricket association and PCB Cricket Operations Department
Haris Rauf’s BBL participation uncertain as PCB delays NOC: report
Pakistan pacer Haris Rauf’s participation in the Big Bash League 2023-24 is met with a potential hurdle as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) is expected to delay the issuance of the No-Objection Certificate (NOC) required for his engagement in the league.
According to ESPNCricinfo, Rauf’s NOC is likely to face a delay until at least December 11, just four days after the start of the BBL. There is no confirmation of an immediate issuance thereafter.
The explanation for the delay revolves around the ongoing National T20 Cup in Pakistan, scheduled until December 10, which the PCB expects Haris Rauf to fully engage in.
Last week, Wahab Riaz, Pakistan’s recently appointed chief selector, disclosed that Rauf had declined participation in Pakistan’s Test series in Australia scheduled for December-January.
Wahab openly expressed his displeasure at Rauf’s decision, with both sides differing on the events leading up to this point. Reportedly, the 30-year-old cited his inexperience in Test cricket as the reason for not agreeing to play in Australia. Rauf conveyed to Wahab that focusing on his white-ball game and fitness would be more beneficial.
Rauf’s potential absence from the BBL could raise concerns, especially for Melbourne Stars, who had enlisted him as a key player. Initially, it was expected that Rauf would only miss the BBL during Pakistan’s five-match T20 series in New Zealand in mid-January. However, further delays may disrupt the league’s plans.
Melbourne Stars had introduced special memberships named “House of Rauf” for the initial three games at the MCG this year, along with a dedicated seating zone called Haris Rauf Bay.
Ongoing delays in Rauf’s NOC issuance may raise concerns among Pakistan’s centrally contracted players in general. Two more players, Usama Mir (Melbourne Stars) and Zaman Khan (Sydney Thunder), are also selected for the league.
Contract discussions between the PCB and the players faced obstacles, partly due to disagreements over the number of foreign leagues players could participate in annually. They seem to have settled on a limit of two leagues, contingent on the PCB issuing an NOC for participation.
The BBL is set to start from December 7, 2023, to January 24 2024.
Sinner savours ‘special’ Davis Cup triumph
Italy won the Davis Cup for the first time since 1976 as Jannik Sinner crushed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-0 to seal a 2-0 win over Australia on Sunday in Malaga.
The world number four clinched victory in the second singles rubber after Matteo Arnaldi dug deep to beat Alexei Popyrin 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in the opening clash.
Sinner, who remarkably beat top-ranked superstar Novak Djokovic twice in one day on Saturday as Italy eliminated Serbia, secured his country’s second title against Lleyton Hewitt’s 28-time winners in style.
“I felt quite good today … this is a really important win for me, the whole team and Italy together,” said Sinner.
“This is something different, really special, because you don’t play for yourself, you play for the whole team.”
The Italian demoralised the scampering De Minaur with a relentless performance, overpowering him with vicious ground-strokes to the delight of the majority of the packed Martin Carpena arena.
Sinner had won each of the five prior meetings between the pair and the world number 12 came no closer this time, brutally dismantled in 81 minutes.
Australia’s wait for a Davis Cup trophy goes on, with their last coming in 2003, but Italy, who last reached a final in 1998, celebrated wildly when De Minaur went wide to end the tie.
On Saturday Italy were on the verge of elimination, but Sinner saved three match points against Djokovic to force a deciding doubles clash.
“Yesterday we were one point away from being out and now we can celebrate winning, I think we can all be very, very happy,” said Sinner, after ending Italy’s 47-year wait, the third-longest gap between titles in Davis Cup history.
Sinner, who lost the ATP Finals showdown with Djokovic a week ago in Turin, deserves special credit for his stunning displays in Malaga – he won all five rubbers he played in.
Laser-focused from the start, he broke early in the first set for a 2-1 lead when De Minaur sent a lob long and then consolidated with a powerful forehand.
The 22-year-old brought up three set points and clinched the first set with the second of them when De Minaur volleyed beyond the baseline.
In the second set Sinner produced 19 winners to just five unforced errors to sweep to victory.
“I will find ways to get better, to be able to hurt these types of players,” said De Minaur, who also suffered disappointment with Australia in last year’s final.
“Today I just didn’t have enough.”
Arnaldi had to cling on to beat Popyrin in the first match.
“I think I won one of the most important matches in my life, I don’t know what to say right now,” said an emotional Arnaldi.
“I’m sorry for Alexei, because he deserved to win, for sure – he was playing better, but sometimes Davis is like this.”
Arnaldi, ranked 44th, exchanged breaks with Popyrin and converted his fourth set point to take a scrappy first stanza.
The Australian hit back strongly in the second, racing into a double break and holding for 4-0.
Arnaldi finally got on the board in the fifth game but Popyrin – who produced six aces in the second set to the Italian’s zero – served it out to force a decisive third.
The erratic Arnaldi saved break points in his first, second and fourth service games without putting pressure on Popyrin’s serve until earning a break point which the 24-year-old saved, holding for 4-4.
Popyrin was on top but could not make it count to get the breakthrough, with Arnaldi saving yet another break point on his way to a 5-4 lead.
Despite being outplayed for the best part of the third set, Arnaldi converted his first set point to put Italy ahead in the tie with a powerful forehand, with Sinner completing the job without a fuss.
“(Sinner) backed up what he did yesterday against Novak and played extremely good tennis,” said Hewitt, who played for Australia last time they won the cup 20 years ago.
“I think the conditions and surface suit him perfectly, as well, which makes life pretty tough.”
Victory completed a superb year for Italian tennis, after their women’s team finished as runners-up in the Billie Jean King Cup.
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