I saw how hurt Bruno Fernandes was but knew he would make the difference for Manchester United

Bruno Fernandes celebrates
Bruno Fernandes celebrates -Credit:2024 Getty Images

Bruno Fernandes was in a delicate state when he left Wembley. He again spared his manager from a delicate situation at Manchester United.

Fernandes was the last player to emerge from the dressing room on Sunday as he required strapping on his hand after an awkward tumble in the FA Cup semi-final. As fragile as his handshake was, there was no chance Fernandes would be in the stands against Sheffield United.

If United had 11 players of his talent and mentality they would be challenging for the title, not for Europa League qualification. Fernandes has started in all but one of United's 33 Premier League fixtures and he missed the stalemate at Anfield through suspension.

Fernandes is United's top scorer, as well as their talisman. An equaliser and winner preceded an assist for Rasmus Hojlund in a rare United victory by a margin of at least two goals.

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The match programme featured Fernandes's ten best United goals. His left-footed swinger-winner against Sheffield United would be high up in the redrafted list.

The evening ended so serenely for United that Ethan Wheatley was introduced as the 250th academy graduate to debut for the first team. Wheatley, 18, scored both of the Under-18s' goals in their Premier League Cup win over City on Tuesday evening and was only allocated a half as he was needed for the first team.

Introducing Wheatley elicited the broadest grin of the night from Erik ten Hag. For the second successive game, he had to endure a chorus of "You're getting sacked in the morning". Even with this chaotic United side, that never seemed probable against one of the worst defences in the Premier League era.

United have moved up the table with their first league win in six weeks and back up to sixth as Newcastle were beaten by Crystal Palace. Yet there is apathy among the matchgoers over whether they are in the Europa League or Conference League.

The league season is such a write-off their supporters are now invested in Liverpool's plight. "Jurgen's cracking up" was aired by the Stretford End shortly after Everton went 2-0 up at Goodison Park. Ten Hag's era might end next month but he has contributed to Klopp's ending unsuccessfully.

After Andre Onana's misplaced kick was clinically punished by Jayden Bogle, the Yorkshiremen yelled, "How s**t must you be? We're winning away." Sheffield United's only away win was at Luton Town and even United did not succumb to that.

Harry Maguire's glancing header seven minutes later tweaked the lyrics to "How s**t must you be? We're drawing away". The original lyrics resurfaced early in the second half.

Bogle's goal was the cue for several United supporters to head for the exit. Whatever their half-time tipple, a stiff one was needed on a chilly spring night.

There was a hallmark of a United defeat this season: conceding from a pull-back - this time with ten of their players inside the area. As dexterously as Gustavo Hamer and Ben Osborn created the opening for Ben Brereton Diaz, United players aimlessly ball-watched for the umpteenth time.

Ten Hag backed the wrong horse again in Antony, granted a start after an anonymous contribution at Wembley, bar his goading. Amad replaced him to loud cheers. On the seven occasions Amad has been introduced off the bench this season, United have either been drawing or losing. This victory was not as dramatic as his last walk-off against Liverpool last month.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, catching his breath after the London Marathon at the weekend, remarked United need some grit. Maguire offered Sheffield steel.

Maguire played through the pain barrier at Bournemouth and Wembley, was United's only fit centre-back again and scored again. A player who was seemingly not needed in pre-season is needed now more than ever.

The deputy football director Andy O'Boyle upgraded from the sparse section of the directors' box to the other side reserved for the dignitaries to sit with new technical director Jason Wilcox and Sir Dave Brailsford. With John Murtough now gone, there is a vacant seat. There were specs of empty seats elsewhere but this was not remotely akin to the swathes of unoccupied seats against Crystal Palace under Louis van Gaal eight years ago.

Ten Hag lingered upon his emergence for kick-off and clapped the supporters longer than he ever has. For a manager who eschews the away followers unless he has to pass them at Turf Moor or Craven Cottage, this was deliberate and he was never going to have to duck from missiles. The United followers put their hands together for him and at full-time.

Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka switched flanks and the former was more midfielder than full-back at times, such was his central positioning. The Portuguese is an underrated ball-striker and he almost married his winner at Bramall Lane inside the first 30 seconds.

Yet Dalot miscontrolled and was robbed of the ball by Brereton Diaz for Sheffield United's second goal. As innovative as his runs were, when he went through on goal at 2-1, he fluffed his lines.

Fernandes didn't.