MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Loud jeers rang around Old Trafford on Saturday as Manchester United fans reacted angrily to manager Erik ten Hag’s decision to take off new signing Rasmus Hojlund in a 3-1 loss to Brighton.
United was trailing 2-0 when Hojlund, an $82 million signing from Atalanta, was replaced by substitute Anthony Martial in the 64th and boos filled the air.
Ten Hag said the striker, who missed the start of the season through injury, was taken off as a precaution.
“He is not ready for a whole game and we have many games to play at short notice, so we have to build the fitness,” the Dutch coach said.
Hojlund, making his first start for his new club and his first appearance in front of its home fans, had already seen a first-half goal ruled out by VAR. But with United needing to get back into the game after going behind to strikes from Danny Welbeck and Pascal Gross, Ten Hag withdrew him as he looked to mount a comeback.
The crowd appeared unimpressed and vociferously made its feelings known before fans showed their appreciation for the striker’s efforts by applauding him as he left the field.
“I think it was positive,” Ten Hag said. “You see the fans in the first moment in Old Trafford, the reception for him was great. I think he performed very well, it’s good they give this signal, this message. It will give Rasmus belief, but everyone knows he came in with a small issue. We built him over the last three or four weeks.”
Ten Hag added, “if he gets injured because he is not capable to play 90 minutes, then we are much farther away than where we want to go.”
The change didn’t have the desired effect as Brighton extended its lead soon after when its own substitute Joao Pedro made it 3-0 in the 71st to add to a troubled start to the season for Ten Hag.
United went into the match having lost two of its four games this season, while also contending with off the field issues surrounding Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho and Antony.
Ten Hag needed a win to lift the mood around the club, but his team was 1-0 down after 20 minutes through former United striker Welbeck’s close-range finish.
In response, Marcus Rashford had a shot deflected onto the bar after Joel Veltman’s sliding block.
United thought it had evened the score shortly before halftime through Hojlund, but the goal was ruled out by VAR after the ball was judged to have gone out of play before his finish.
After the break Gross fired low past Andre Onana in the 53rd, following Tariq Lamptey’s assist.
Pedro added a third before United substitute Hannibal Mejbri pulled one back in the 73rd with a long-range shot.
Brighton had a number of chances to add further goals, with Onana denying Kaoru Mitoma, Evan Ferguson and Ansu Fati late on before more boos were heard at the final whistle.