In the immediate aftermath of his sensational injury-time double that turned what was threatening to be another awful day for Manchester United on its head, Scott McTominay was asked what his manager had said to him as he prepared to come on as an 87th-minute substitute against Brentford.
“It was very loud,” said the midfielder. “The fans were roaring us on so I couldn’t hear fully. He probably said something like: ‘Go on and score.'”
Informed of this half an hour later, Erik ten Hag couldn’t resist an amused smile.
McTominay was wrong.
“I said score two goals,” said the Dutchman.
McTominay’s introduction was a last desperate throw of the dice as United were about to suffer their third home defeat in a week and experience three home league losses in a row for the first time since 1979.
Brentford were good value for their single-goal lead and Ten Hag had virtually run out of options.
Had the summer turned out differently, neither McTominay nor Harry Maguire, who provided the crucial assist for the Scot’s winner, would have still been at United.
In that chaotic last four minutes, the first time United had trailed in stoppage time in a Premier League game they ended up winning, Ten Hag was certainly glad they were.
“He is Manchester United in his heart,” said the United boss. “He is playing for the badge and gives his life. When you are coming on and giving this to the team it tells a lot.”
West Ham were the club most heavily linked with McTominay as David Moyes pushed to sign his countryman.
But Ten Hag confirmed United’s valuation was not met.
“Every player has a price – but he has a big value, sporting and also economic. I want to have a player like Scott McTominay in the squad.
“He is Manchester United in every way. In every minute he will fight for the match. Those players you need.”
The lap of honour and euphoric scenes that followed the final whistle were in stark contrast to what was being lined up for Ten Hag and his players had the situation not changed so dramatically.
Yet the result cannot mask what was, for so long, a dire performance.
United are a shadow of the side that performed so well for the first two-thirds of last season and key individuals are well below their best.
The ineffective Marcus Rashford was replaced just after the hour mark and is still with just a single goal to his name all season while Casemiro was substituted at half-time after making the first in a catalogue of errors that led to Brentford’s goal.
Manchester City are United’s next league visitors to Old Trafford, on 29 October, and many will be fearful of what that might bring on this evidence.
Though he will not see most of his players until the end of the international break, Ten Hag is hoping this win allows a reset for the campaign as a whole.
“In football, it’s eat or get eaten,” he said.
“Too many times in the first half of the season we have got eaten by opponents who are more hungry, and it can’t be. We were not always determined on every occasion in games and you get hammered for it.
“Today, we didn’t allow them one shot, had some opportunities and then the same story again; we conceded a goal on a decisive moment with totally the wrong decision from two or three players. We started and were not in formation – it was an easy giveaway and it sums up our season.
“Our players are too good players to act like this. It has to be a turning point but also a restart because we have to get into higher levels.”