NOTTINGHAM, England (AP) — Antony was at his lethal best to inspire Manchester United to a 2-0 win against Nottingham Forest in the Premier League on Sunday and back up Erik ten Hag’s claim that he has the skills to “kill opponents.”
The Brazil international scored one goal and made another at the City Ground as United moved up to third and took another step toward Champions League qualification.
The $95 million signing also went some way to answering his critics with one of his most impressive performances since signing from Ajax last summer and prompting Ten Hag to draw comparisons with Dutch great Arjen Robben.
“He knows, I know as well, when you are a striker you need end product,” the United manager said. “But already he had quite a lot of end product. He scored in all competitions now, eight goals (in) first year United is not bad and still games to go.
“But he has to do it, I can’t say in every game, but many games if you want to be a top-class player and especially in all the competitions.”
Antony opened the scoring when turning the ball over the line after Anthony Martial’s shot was saved by Keylor Navas in the 32nd minute.
And after Forest’s on-loan Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper pulled off a string of saves to prevent United extending the lead, Antony turned provider to set up Diogo Dalot in the 76th.
The forward has been criticized since arriving at Old Trafford for his lack of goals, inconsistent performances and perceived over-reliance on his left foot.
But Ten Hag, who coached him at Ajax, has repeatedly defended him.
“I know he can also use his right, he has to do it more,” Ten Hag said. “I’ve seen, for instance, Arjen Robben a lot. They say he has only one trick but that one trick was so brilliant no one can stop it.”
In the absence of injured leading scorer Marcus Rashford, United needed someone to come up with the goals against Forest and it was Antony who stepped up with his first in the league since October.
He might have scored more if not for the performance of Navas, but the former Real Madrid ‘keeper could not deny Dalot after Antony’s weaving run set up the United defender to seal the win.
While United’s Champions League pursuit was boosted, Forest’s hopes of avoiding relegation took another blow after failing to move out of the bottom three.
While Forest manager Steve Cooper insisted he was not looking for excuses, he pointed to a potentially pivotal moment when Harry Maguire appeared to handle in the box in the 19th, but was no penalty was awarded.
“I am not going to say it is the absolute reason why we lost the game, but I think it is a definite penalty from Maguire and possibly a second yellow card and could be a game-changer,” Cooper said.
United had the chance to take advantage of top-four rivals Newcastle and Tottenham both losing on Saturday and knew a draw would be enough to move up to third.
Ten Hag suffered a blow before kickoff when Marcel Sabitzer was injured in the warmup and had to be replaced in the starting lineup by Christian Eriksen.
The Austrian joins a growing injury list that includes key players Rashford, Lisandro Martinez, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw.
Sabitzer’s absence was a particular blow, given he scored twice in the 2-2 draw with Sevilla in the Europa League on Thursday.
But Antony and Bruno Fernandes provided ample goalmouth threat without him.
Fernandes was outstanding, forcing a series of saves from Navas and playing the key pass for Antony’s goal.
Forest had already had the penalty appeal and hit the post through Scott McKenna by the time United took the lead.
Martial won the ball high up the field and then raced onto Fernandes’ through ball. The forward’s shot on the angle was pushed away by Navas, but Antony was there to finish off.
Taiwo Awoniyi had the chance to equalize before the break when Dalot played the ball into his path just inside the box, but his shot flew high over the bar.
United took control in the second half with Navas pushing Fernandes’ shot onto the bar and going on to further deny the Portuguese and Antony as the pressure mounted.
When the second goal came, it was the result of Antony’s tricky footwork and vision to set up Dalot.
Picking up the ball on the right, he beat two players before slipping a pass to meet Dalot’s run. With only Navas to beat, the defender controlled the ball and swept a shot past the ‘keeper. ___
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.