MAN UTD 2, BRIGHTON 1
Manchester United strengthened their grip on a Champions League place following a fortuitous home victory against Brighton.
The Reds, whose display was best described as stuttering and laboured, finally got over the line thanks to goals in the last half hour from Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood.
It was a win which maintained second spot but, more importantly, they are now 11 points clear of Tottenham who are fifth.
United laboured and for a large part of the night it looked as though the Seagulls would record a first-ever win at Old Trafford after former Reds’ player Danny Welbeck gave them an early lead.
Brighton were enterprising and showed how they had already won on the road at Newcastle, Aston Villa, Leeds, Liverpool and Southampton.
United needed to dig deep, something they did to grind out a hard-earned victory, their third win of the season against the Seagulls in league and cup.Embed from Getty Images
Reds’ manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer admitted it was a tough match, explaining: “It’s always difficult to play Brighton. We have had good results and we’ve had to earn them the hard way. We managed to find a way in the second half.
“Danny [Welbeck] was in the reserves when I was the coach. He is a big talent. It’s great to see him back playing football with all the injuries he has had. We gave it away sloppily [for his goal]. Dean [Henderson] makes a good save first but then the rebound comes in. We had to come in at half time and compose ourselves as we didn’t create much after they scored.”
Solskjaer was especially pleased for his matchwinner, saying: “Mason was mature. Today he was one of our brightest players. He was clean, he was tidy and he got the goal. It’s a header inside the six-yard box and that’s what we need more from Mason.”
Matchwinner Greenwood said: “It was a hard night. When they scored the first goal, we knew we had to react and put in a better performance. Everyone was excellent in the second half.
“I don’t think we started very well but we knew we had to switch on and be focused. We should have started that from the moment we came out, but it’s a good three points. They had a lot of men behind the ball, and we had to have that creative spark.
“We weren’t worried. We knew we had the quality on the pitch. Everyone kept their heads.”
And of his goal, Greenwood added: “It’s a confidence booster. I’ve not scored as many in the Premier League. I scored a header tonight which is something I’ve been working on a lot behind the scenes.”
Brighton boss Graham Potter said: “We contributed well to the game. We took the lead and were probably the team which carried the most threat in the first half. We just missed that final pass.
“Man Utd responded in the second half without creating too many chances. They scored from not too much. Maybe a penalty which Danny Welbeck didn’t get.
“When it was live, I thought it was a penalty then I suppose it’s the clear and obvious debate. If Mike Dean had given it, I don’t think VAR would have overruled it. There’s nothing we can do in the end. We’re disappointed to come away with nothing.”
United made two changes from their last Premier League march, the 1-0 win against West Ham on March 14.
Paul Pogba replaced Scott McTominay in midfield while Edison Cavani returned from injury in place of Daniel James.
Brighton were unchanged from their 3-0 win over Newcastle before the international break.
That meant former United forward Welbeck starting upfront alongside Neal Maupay.
United came close to taking a ninth minute lead when Greenwood struck the upright.
Bruno Fernandes’ cross was only headed clear to Greenwood whose first-time half volley struck the base of the post.
However, it was the Seagulls who snatched a 13th minute lead through Welbeck who became the first former player to score three goals against his one-time employers, the other two were for Arsenal.
Welbeck’s initial close-range header from Maupay’s cross was well kept out by Dean Henderson but the loose ball looped up for Welbeck to nod home from a couple of yards for his fourth goal of the season.
And it soon al most got worse as Brighton came within a lick of paint of doubling their advantage.
Lewis Dunk’s header from Pascal Gross’ free kick was turned on to the crossbar by Henderson.
It was as poor an opening period from United for some time as they didn’t manage a shot on target, the first time that has happened since August 2019 against Crystal Palace.
United finally recorded a first goal attempt on target in the 52nd minute, but Rashford’s effort went straight to keeper Robert Sanchez.
And they were level 10 minutes later following their first decent move of the match.
Fernandes drove forward and released Rashford on the left of the box and he clinically despatched a first-time shot low across goal into the far corner for his 19th of the season.
There was a VAR check for a penalty after Welbeck went down under a challenge from Maguire as United were caught by a counterattack.
United made their first change with 18 minutes left when Rashford was replaced by Daniel James.
Fernandes’ drive was too hot for Sanchez who could only parry and Greenwood’s follow-up effort was deflected as it looped on to the roof of the net.
Cavani made way for Donny van de Beek in the 81st minute as United looked for new ideas in pursuit of a winner.
The winner came with seven minutes left when Pogba’s miss-hit volley from Fernandes’ cross fortuitously fell to Greenwood who found the net with a diving header from six yards, his sixth goal of the season as it eluded both Sanchez and Lewis Dunk who was covering on the line.
It was Pogba’s final contribution as he was immediately replaced by Scott McTominay.