Erik ten Hag says Manchester United’s stunning stoppage-time turnaround against Brentford has to be the “turning point” in their season.
The afterglow from a promising first season under the Dutchman has long since dimmed, with the mood threatening to darken further before the international break.
Mathias Jensen put Brentford on course for a famous Old Trafford win as United entered second-half stoppage time staring down the barrel of a fifth defeat in their opening eight league matches.
But super sub Scott McTominay had other ideas. Introduced in the 87th minute, he fired United level in the 93rd minute and four minutes later headed home to seal a scarcely believable 2-1 comeback win.
“This has to be a turning point but also it has to be a restart because we have to get into higher levels,” United boss Ten Hag said.
“But the spirit is good, the belief is good, the team is together.
“We have shown that, we have shown strong character and it can be the turning point in the season but it’s up to us.
“Those games give fuel to a dressing room. They know how far they have to go to get results.
“It can’t be easy going and in football, it’s eat or you get eaten.
“Too many times in the first half of the season we have got eaten by opponents who are more hungry, and this can’t be. It has to go away.
“Every player, every second he is on the pitch, he has to deliver that. That is the demand and the standard.
“When you do that, we have seen last season that you get a determined team.
“We were not always determined on every occasion in games and you get hammered for it and this has to change.”
McTominay was the fifth and final substitution made by Ten Hag as United desperately looked to avoid a third straight Old Trafford defeat in all competitions.
The homegrown midfielder was linked with a summer move but stayed and came up trumps on Saturday, when he admitted he could not quite hear Ten Hag’s instructions when bringing him on.
McTominay reckoned his manager “probably said something like ‘go on and score’,” but the grinning Dutchman said: “I said score two goals!
“It says a lot (about his mentality). He’s Man United in everything, in his heart. He’s playing for the badge, he gives his life.
“When you’re coming on and you give this to the team, that tells a lot. That also tells a lot about this dressing room, they are together.
“And also I felt the whole afternoon a strong togetherness with the fans because even when we are losing they kept standing behind us.
“They kept us going, the team kept going and finally we get rewarded.”
Brentford were just moments away from a famous first Old Trafford win since 1937, only to be denied their second victory of the season at the death.
Bees head coach Thomas Frank said: “When you’re leading 1-0 into three minutes injury time and then lose, I think that’s unfair.
“I think if you were winning there you would all say ‘well done, tough game for Brentford, deserved win’.
“When they equalised, probably you could say ‘OK, 1-1 is probably fair’.
“I think that we played close to a perfect first half, very aggressive in the high pressure, very brave on the ball, good on the counters, defended well.
“I think it was a well-deserved 1-0 lead that first half.
“Second half we get more under pressure. Of course, we’re playing against Man United at Old Trafford. They have to win.
“I know when it’s good for other managers. I’m happy for Erik but of course not happy for myself that we didn’t win, because I think he would probably have faced a pretty brutal room if he’d lost.”