Erik ten Hag was booed by Manchester United fans as his side slumped to a third Premier League defeat in four matches on another wretched day for the crisis-torn club.
This was United’s fourth successive league defeat to Brighton and they are now due to face Bayern Munich in a forbidding Champions League trip to the Allianz Arena on Wednesday.
Goals from United old boy Danny Welbeck, Pascal Gross, who scored for the fourth time in three league outings against United, and Joao Pedro left Old Trafford stunned. Some United fans even headed for the exit when Pedro made it 3-0 in the 71st minute, shortly before substitute Hannibal pulled a goal back.
Ten Hag disagreed with the suggestion United were “in crisis” but urged his squad to stick together in a bid to stop the rot.
“[Crisis?] No, but we have to be disappointed and we have to be very annoyed with ourselves because at United the demand is you win games,” the Dutchman said.
Asked if he was worried about the results, Ten Hag added: “Definitely that is something that bothers me, but also I have to see the way we play, but finally it’s about character and now we have to see how strong we are and how the team sticks together and which players stand up and lead the team.
“Bayern Munich are one of the favourites to win the Champions League so we have to be good there and I already explained we need character, belief, resilience, determination absolutely.”
Ten Hag, who omitted the exiled Jadon Sancho and Antony from his squad, defended his decision to bring off Hojlund, who made his first start for the club following his £72 million move from Atalanta last month but is still working his way back to full fitness.
United were 2-0 down and chasing the game at that point but Ten Hag said he could not risk Hojlund’s fitness as he attempted to put a positive spin on the boos.
“I think it was positive, you see the fans in the first moment [for Hojlund] at Old Trafford, the reception for him was great,” he said.
“I think he performed very well, it’s good they give this signal, this message, it will give Rasmus belief. But everyone knows he came in with a small issue [in his back].
“We built him over the last three or four weeks but he is not ready for a whole game and we have many games to play at short notice, so we have to build the fitness.”
United fans were unimpressed to see Martial coming on instead but Ten Hag defended the France striker.
“I think it was because Rasmus came off [that the fans booed] but I don’t want to discuss that so I don’t know,” he said.
“But I think Anthony Martial last year every time he played he had a very positive effect on our games, we even almost lost no games with Anthony Martial on the pitch.
“So if that’s the fact, then I don’t understand because when he is fit he will definitely contribute. At this moment, he is not top fit.
“He first has to be consistently available and then you will see his form will be better but as I said, every time last year when he was playing he affected our game in a positive way so I hope he can stay fit and contribute to our game.”
Roberto De Zerbi, the Brighton manager, believes his side should have won by a bigger margin. “I think you are right, we could score more goals, especially in the last 25 minutes with Ansu Fati one chance one to one with Onana, another two or three potential ones with Mitoma, with Ferguson,” he said.
“I think Brighton is becoming not a big, big team but it is not a surprise, the quality of the players of Brighton is very high. I don’t know the problems of Manchester United but I can explain my team, we are used to working in our style, we are playing with courage, we defended at Old Trafford man to man all the time, we kept the ball in every situation.”
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