After tepid Man United display, is Ten Hag’s sacking looming?

LONDON, England — Erik ten Hag says he “doesn’t care” about speculation surrounding his future as Manchester United manager, but it’s days like this that will only strengthen the argument that he should lose his job this summer.

The 1-1 draw with Brentford hurts United’s bid to claw their way back into the race to qualify for the Champions League, but it was the manner of the performance at the Gtech Community Stadium on Saturday which does most damage to Ten Hag’s bid to stay in his current role. Second best for most the night, United looked like they had somehow earned a smash-and-grab victory when Mason Mount scored in the 96th minute.

Ten Hag and his staff celebrated like they knew they’d got out of jail, but just as assistant Steve McClaren was pointing to his head to tell United’s defenders to show the match intelligence to see out the game, Brentford threw a hopeful ball into the box and Ivan Toney cut back his pass for Kristoffer Ajer to grab a deserved equalizer.

Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

After Tottenham and Aston Villa both won their games earlier in the day, a point does little for United’s hopes of playing in next season’s Champions League, but in reality they were lucky to return to Manchester with anything at all. Ten Hag is already on thin ice as new co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his INEOS team plot a way forward and Brentford, a team battling relegation, made another significant crack.

“We didn’t deserve to win but if you’re winning you have to take this,” Ten Hag said afterwards. “I would say normally we are good in such circumstances if we score before time.

“We showed resilience all through the game, but in points of aggressiveness Brentford were better. We should show more passion and desire in many moments in the game but when you are winning [so late in the game] you should bring it over the line.”

After the dramatic extra time FA Cup win over Liverpool before the international break, Ten Hag spoke about using the high to make sure they finish the season strongly. But any momentum carried over lasted all of 15 minutes and from then on it became a question of whether or not Brentford would score.

Toney, fresh from his first England goal against Belgium, hit the inside of the post and Mathias Jørgensen saw a header skim the top of the crossbar. André Onana made a double save from Yehor Yarmoliuk and Keane Lewis-Potter. Yoane Wissa, who caused United problems all night in the gaping hole between defence and midfield, flashed a shot wide and Toney sent a volley over the top.

Toney finally thought he had given Brentford the lead only for the goal to be ruled out for offside. Moments later, substitute Bryan Mbeumo smashed an effort off the crossbar with Onana beaten. For Brentford, it was that kind of night and if you didn’t know any better, you certainly wouldn’t have guessed it was the home side who are on a run of just two wins from their last 18 games.

“There should have been only one winner in the game, that could only be us,” said Brentford manager Thomas Frank. “Then you go 1-0 down in the 96th minute and you think football is brutal. I almost lost faith in the football god but he gave a bit back. What a performance.

“We had the most shots ever in the Premier League. How we didn’t win is incredible. It was more or less the perfect performance,” added Frank.

Along with Anfield and the Etihad Stadium, the Gtech was already the site of one of Ten Hag’s worst days as United manager. The Dutchman lost his first Premier League away game here 4-0 in August last season and while this was a better result, it was another horror show of a performance.

Brentford, bottom of the Premier League form table, had 31 shots and an xG of 3.19, but at the other end, Brentford goalkeeper Mark Flekken was barely troubled until he had to pick Mount’s left-footed shot out of the net in stoppage time. It’s now nine times in their last 11 games that United have conceded 20 or more shots.

Mount’s first United goal and first his scoring for Chelsea in Dec. 2022, coupled with Lisandro Martínez‘s return from injury as a second-half substitute, were the only positives for Ten Hag, who is again under immense pressure ahead of games against Chelsea and Liverpool next week.

Already 11 points behind Aston Villa and eight points behind Spurs, two more performances like this and any hope of salvaging Champions League football will be all but over and Ten Hag’s hopes of saving his job may well disappear with it.