Manchester United slumped to a 2-1 defeat at resurgent Nottingham Forest on Saturday evening, potentially landing a knockout blow on Erik ten Hag’s future.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s third managerial stint in the Premier League was off to a sluggish start. But after an incredible 3-1 win at Newcastle United on Boxing Day, the Tricky Tress are gaining momentum.
Despite commencing the round only two points clear of the dreaded relegation zone, the hosts came into proceedings in a buoyant mood and went toe-to-toe with top-four hopefuls Man Utd in the first half.
However, the opening 45 minutes at the City Ground were one of the worst in the Premier League this season.
While Forest headed into half-time without a shot on target, United’s only attempt was merely enough to generate a disastrous 0.03 xG.
The Red Devils’ disappointing first-half performance was no major surprise, knowing they had failed to get on the scoresheet on three consecutive travels in the build-up to today’s trip.
Under-pressure Ten Hag was 45 minutes away from being relieved of his duties as a Man Utd manager before a sensational second-half comeback against Aston Villa on Tuesday.
An unimaginable turnaround at Old Trafford saw United fight back from a 2-0 deficit at the break to win 3-2, leading the Red Devils faithful to start believing in the team’s revival.
But another humiliating showing in the first half at the City Ground proved it was only a one-off, a last-ditch effort from a deeply troubled side to show signs of life.
Forest flew out of the traps in the second half but had to wait until the 64th minute to reap the reward as Nicolas Dominguez finished an intricate build-up play with aplomb.
Gonzalo Montiel slipped United’s defensive net to receive a precise pass into the box before setting up the ex-Bologna midfielder on a platter. Dominguez turned his low cross home with a simple first-time finish.
United struggled to recover after conceding the opening goal, yet Forest goalkeeper Matt Turner offered them a lifeline.
Espirito Santo’s side tried to build from the back, but the United States stopper misplaced a routine pass, with Alejandro Garnacho sniffing out a mistake to intercept the ball close to the penalty area.
Instead of going for glory himself, the in-form Argentine winger laid the ball off to Marcus Rashford, whose pinpoint first-time finish found its way into the far-bottom corner.
With 12 minutes left on the clock, there was enough time for Man Utd to pull off another comeback. Unfortunately for Ten Hag, the game went the opposite way.
The Tricky Trees displayed impressive counter-attacking football, with Morgan Gibbs-White beating Andre Onana with a top-class finish from the edge of the box in the 82nd minute.
As the sinking feeling came to the fore again, Ten Hag ordered an all-out-attack approach in the remainder of the game, but it was already too late for Man Utd.
Referee Tim Robinson gave the visitors ten minutes of stoppages, but it wasn’t enough to create anything meaningful in the final third.
It’s now up to the Old Trafford hierarchy to decide what to do with Ten Hag.
In addition to becoming the first Man Utd manager to lose a Premier League game to Forest since Sir Alex Ferguson in 1994, the Dutchman met another unwanted piece of history this evening.
The Red Devils have now lost 14 matches across all competitions this season. It’s the first time since 1930/31 that they’ve suffered over 13 defeats before the new year.
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