Soccer-Man United can still finish fourth, says Ten Hag

Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester United v Fulham - Old Trafford, Manchester, Britain - February 24, 2024 Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag applauds fans after the match Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag said his team can still make up the eight points between them and Aston Villa to achieve a top-four Premier League finish despite their shock home loss to Fulham on Saturday.

Alex Iwobi scored deep in stoppage time as Fulham shocked a sub-par United 2-1, the London side's first win at Old Trafford since 2003 and only their second in 61 years.

United had not lost in their five last league games, but the optimism that had been growing around Old Trafford was dented by Iwobi's 97th-minute goal.

"I said from January on we are (playing) finals, and we won many finals," Ten Hag told reporters. "Now we lost one final."

United are sixth in the table on 44 points after 26 games, while Villa, who beat Nottingham Forest 4-2 on Saturday, have 52.

United's loss came three days after new co-owner Jim Ratcliffe vowed to knock arch-rivals Manchester City and Liverpool off their perch.

Ten Hag said the future remained positive, pointing out that the team has been hard-hit by injuries with striker Rasmus Hojlund, who had scored in United's six previous league games, and defender Luke Shaw the latest absentees.

"You have to see the bigger picture and the bigger picture looks very good," Ten Hag said. "We have to catch up in certain positions, get the injuries back, because then we will be more in balance.

"We are going in the right direction. And when we have the players of the squad available, we have a very good team."

Defender Harry Maguire, who scored United's equaliser against Fulham, said Hojlund was sorely missed.

"He has been big focal point for us, but it is up to us to find the solutions and the areas we need to improve on," Maguire said. "It's the story of our season, we've been injury hit -- as other teams have -- and we need to find a solution quick."

United have little time to find one with an FA Cup fifth-round tie at Nottingham Forest on Wednesday and the Manchester derby against City at the Etihad Stadium next weekend.

(Reporting by Lori Ewing, editing by Ed Osmond)

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