MAN UNITED 1, BRENTFORD 0
Marcus Rashford’s 28th goal of the season was enough to see off Brentford as Manchester United reclaimed a top-four spot.
The Reds ended their recent wobble of one point from their previous three Premier League games which had seen them slip out of the Champions League places.
Having been eight points clear of fifth place in mid-February, United had appeared to be running out of steam in recent weeks.
But they put their faltering league form back on track with a victory far more comfortable than the 1-0 scoreline.
United enjoyed two third possession and 18 goal attempts to six from the Bees. And with more clinical finishing, their victory would have been far more emphatic.Embed from Getty Images
Rashford spoke of the importance of the victory in pursuit of a top-four place as his best-ever goalscoring campaign continued.
He said: “We are in that period of the season where every game is important and every game counts so we are pleased to win and hopefully we can get back to where we were a few weeks ago.
“The important thing is always to win the next game. Everyone is clear that we are not going to play our best every week but there is never a time to drop our standards and we have to keep trying to push each other every week.
“We were a bit more patient out of possession, we waited for the right conditions to press rather than pressing every ball. We were calm and kept communicating to try and stop the supplies to their forward men.”
Ten Hag added: “We played very good football, especially in the first half. The second half was more of a battle. It is not easy against this very good Brentford team to play well. There was passion and desire and we got over the line.
“The first goal is so important and then the game gets easier, so you need that first goal.
“Of course, this is a massive win for the Premier League, especially over Brentford. In 16 games they have only lost one. It is always difficult to play against them and to beat them, but we did so I am proud of my team today.
“This gives us energy. We have to keep this and go to Saturday [against Everton], another big game.”
Ten Hag praised Rashford and David De Gea who made a big save.
He continued: “It was a great finish. Once again he is on top and in very good form so hopefully he can keep doing it until the end of the season. Keep that focus and those energy levels and then he will score.
“When you need David, he is there and when you lose focus, mistakes can happen. We want to play as a machine and don’t make mistakes. We make one mistake and luckily they didn’t benefit from it and also it was the performance from David De Gea.”
Brentford manager Thomas Frank said: “I think it’s a very good picture of the fact we are disappointed we didn’t get something from this game.
“It shows how far we have come when we go to Old Trafford against Manchester United, and the disappointment is big among the players and myself. In some ways we didn’t play well especially in the first half. In the second half we had the big chance through Kevin [Schade] and we forced them to play a back five in the end.
“We didn’t play well in the first half and didn’t create any chances at all and then, ironically, we concede on a set piece which we are very good at. We were disappointed but again it is a very good sign of how far we have come.
“The funny thing, after the goal we got more into the game and were more on top and could and should have scored. Kevin’s chance was the chance. We didn’t hit the highest level on the ball and players didn’t keep the ball well enough and that cost us.
“It shows a lot of the mentality in this team, the discipline to keep going. We had a chance to come back, and we forced some situations without creating enough.”
Ten Hag responded to Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Newcastle by making one change to his team as Jadon Sancho returned in place of Wout Weghorst who was on the bench.
The bench also included Aaron Wan-Bissaka who has recovered from illness.
Brentford also made one change following the 3-3 draw with Brighton on Saturday. Danish defender Mads Roerslev came in for Aaron Hickey who dropped to the bench.
Brentford’s substitutes bench also included Shandon Baptiste who was available after suspension.
It was a slow burner with the first clear-cut chance of the night not arriving until the 21st minute when Antony cut the ball back from the right for Scott McTominay whose rasping drive from the edge of the box cleared the crossbar by inches.
That was quickly followed by Antony cutting inside from the right before bending a shot just far of the far upright.
The breakthrough came in the 27th minute, inevitably through Rashford.
Antony chipped the ball into the box and Marcel Sabitzer cushioned a sideways header for Rashford to fire high into the net for his 28th goal of the season and 15th in the Premier League.
Rashford’s total is the joint most by a United player in one campaign in the post-Alex Ferguson world.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (2016-17) and Bruno Fernandes (2020-21) have also scored 28 in a season.
United were forced to make a first-half change when the injured Luke Shaw was replaced by Tyrell Malacia.
Brentford, who managed only one goal attempt in the opening period compared to United’s 13, were almost back on level terms soon after the restart.
Ivan Toney charged down a clearance from De Gea but luckily for the Spaniard the ball rebounded wide.
As the rain poured, there was a zip to the second half play with Sabitzer brining a rare save from visiting keeper David Raya.
The Bees made three changes and one of them, Kevin Schade, left Raphael Varane for dead as he raced through on goal only for De Gea to make an important but painful block with the ball striking him in his private parts.
United’s second and third changes with 20 minutes left saw Sabitzer and Jadon Sancho replaced by Fred and Anthony Martial.
The Reds missed a great chance to put the game to bed after Rashford broke on the left and cut the ball back to Fred who fired over when he ought to have buried the ball into the net.
Winger Antony made way for central defender Victor Lindelof with four minutes left as the Reds looked to hold on to their lead.