Alejandro Garnacho came off the bench to score a stoppage-time winner for Manchester United as they beat Fulham 2-1 at Craven Cottage in their final Premier League game before the World Cup break on Sunday.
Christian Eriksen, who is set to play for Denmark at the World Cup, scored the opener in the 14th minute, sliding in at the far post to steer the ball home after Anthony Martial and Bruno Fernandes combined cleverly to create the chance.
Eriksen had a great chance to double his side’s lead in first-half stoppage time when he was picked out in the box by Fernandes, but this time he stabbed his shot wide of the near post.
Carlos Vinicius almost put Fulham level just after the break, twisting to fire a shot that goalkeeper David De Gea steered behind, and the Spaniard pulled off another tremendous save to keep out Tim Ream’s headed effort from the subsequent corner.
The home side equalised in the 61st minute with a goal eerily similar to Manchester United’s as winger Willian played Tom Cairney free down the right and he centred for ex-United winger Daniel James to score two minutes after he came off the bench.
Fulham’s Joao Palhinha and United’s Scott McTominay wasted decent chances for their respective sides with wayward headers, and the game looked to be heading for a draw until the 18-year-old Garnacho struck.
After coming on in the 72nd minute for Martial, he had some promising raids down the left before charging into the box in the third minute of stoppage time to fire his first Premier League goal and snatch all three points.
The result means Manchester United, whose next league game is at home to Nottingham Forest on Dec. 27, will celebrate Christmas in fifth place on 26 points, while Fulham, who travel to Crystal Palace on Dec. 26, are ninth on 19 points.
“About time!” Eriksen joked about his first Premier League goal since joining United. “I owed a few so I’m happy to be on the scoresheet in the last game before the World Cup. It’s been a good week.”
United midfielder Fernandes hailed young substitute Garnacho after his decisive intervention.
“He has a lot of talent and his work-rate, together with the talent, makes a big difference with us from the bench. It’s not the first time he makes a big impact for us,” he told Sky Sports.
De Gea saves keep United in it before Garnacho takes the headlines
The result was harsh on Fulham, who had looked to be getting another excellent result at home after they had won three times at Craven Cottage and drawn 2-2 with Liverpool in the opening match of the season.
But Garnacho, who has represented both Spain and Argentina at younger age groups, scored his first Premier League goal to enhance his rapidly blossoming reputation.
He only made his United debut in April, scored his first goal for the club against Real Sociedad in the Europa League 10 days ago and produced an impressive late cameo, providing two assists, in United’s 4-2 Carabao Cup win over Aston Villa on Thursday.
But United needed a superb performance from De Gea – overlooked for the Spain World Cup squad – to keep Fulham from taking the lead as the hosts played superbly in the second half after James, who spent two years with United, equalised.
United have 14 players that have been named in squads for Qatar, but Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was again not involved because of illness, which also kept him out of Thursday’s match.
Fulham were without top goalscorer Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has scored nine goals in 12 Premier League games this season, as his foot injury again ruled him out, with the Serbia striker hoping to be fit for his country’s World Cup opener against Brazil on 24 November.
There will now be no top-flight football until 26 December but this match was a dramatic, thrilling way for the first half of a Premier League season like no other to come to a halt.