Fernandes scored a late winner at Craven Cottage as United beat Fulham 1-0 on Saturday, easing the pressure on Ten Hag following successive 3-0 home defeats by Manchester City and Newcastle in the past week.
The only goal of the game, in stoppage time, showed Fernandes’s importance to Ten Hag, who came in for criticism from some of the United fanbase when appointing the Portugal midfielder as captain ahead of the season, due to his perceived lack of leadership.
“He was playing a massive game”, Ten Hag said afterwards. “A very good performance. In and out of possession, he was very good.
“So often from the moment I made him captain, he has done this [saved us]. He gives energy, and is the example.
"You see his pressing, counter-pressing in recovery. He is absolutely the example. He is taking risks all the time on and off the pitch. I’m happy with my captain.”
Asked about the important timing of the victory over Fulham, Ten Hag said: “Every game we have to win. I think it was a solid performance. I’m pleased with it.
"I was pleased with the way we pressed, against a Fulham team who played very decent football from the back.
“I knew that”, he said, when asked whether the nature of a late win showed his players are still fighting for him. “[I saw it] against Brentford. Now we’ve seen it [again].
"They fight for each other and know what the standards are. It is the attitude that we need at this football club.
“In this week, we were definitely not happy with our standards. A very good performance, and that performance has to be what is there.”