On an autumn Sunday when Manchester United were very much second billing to events elsewhere in the north-west, they provided yet more evidence that they are heading in the right direction.
A fifth win in six games in all competitions tells its own story, but it was the manner of this victory over Brighton at Old Trafford that bodes so well for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Another energetic, purposeful performance from this young team saw United score three goals here for the second time in four days and climb back to seventh place in the table.
Marcus Rashford celebrates after scoring Manchester United’s third goal against Brighton on Sunday afternoon
Rashford restored the home side’s lead with a powerful finish after being teed up by team-mate Anthony Martial
The English forward saw his drilled effort crash off the crossbar and into the net midway through the second half
They could have had more against Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League on Thursday night and again here, but the important thing is that confidence is flowing and the chances are coming.
Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Dan James linked up well again and Andreas Pereira continues to impress as a No.10, while in midfield Scott McTominay and Fred have made sure that Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic have hardly been missed.
This United team are still prone to deflating defeats like the one at Bournemouth last weekend, but there is no doubt they are moving forward and can head into the international break in good shape.
Solskjaer made only one change to the team beaten on the South Coast, giving promising teenager Brandon Williams his first Premier League start in place of the suspended Ashley Young.
That defeat had dropped United back down the table, six places below Brighton at kick-off who came into this fixture above their more illustrious opponents for the first time.
MATCH FACTS AND THE PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE
Manchester United (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 6, Maguire 7, Lindelof 6.5, Williams 7 (Rojo 90+1); Fred 7.5, McTominay 7; James 8, Pereira 7 (Lingard 70, 6), Rashford 7 (Greenwood 90+1); Martial 7
Subs not used: Romero, Jones, Mata, Garner.
Scorers: Pereira 17, Propper og 19, Rashford 66
Booked: Rashford, Williams
Brighton (4-4-2): Ryan 7; Montoya 5 (March 46, 6), Dunk 6.5, Duffy 6, Burn 5.5; Alzate 6, Propper 5.5, Stephens 6, Trossard 5.5 (Gross 59, 6.5); Maupay 6, Connolly 5 (Murray 46, 6)
Subs not used: Button, Balogun, Mooy, Schelotto.
Scorer: Dunk 64
Booked: Stephens, Dunk, Montoya, Burn, Propper
Referee: Jon Moss 7
Season at a glance
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
Graham Potter’s side had won three of their previous four games and another one here would have given Brighton their best return at this stage of the season.
But any hopes of that all but disappeared as United surged into a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes. Both goals went in off a Brighton player, though in rather different circumstances.
Having just seen Rashford cut inside form the left with a slaloming run at the Seagulls’ defence and test Mat Ryan with a low effort, Pereira decided to get on the front foot as well in the 17th minute.
He ran at the Brighton back-four teasing them with a series of stepovers but that only gave Dale Stephens the chance to get back and poke the ball of his toes. It ran for Martial who passed up the chance to shoot from a narrow angle and played the ball to Pereira whose left-foot shot took a heavy deflection off Stephens and left Ryan hopelessly wrong-footed.
The Brighton keeper was picking the ball out of his net again two minutes later. Lewis Dunk was booked for taking down James wide on the right, giving Fred the opportunity to swing a freekick to the edge of the six-yard box. Harry Maguire rose with Dunk and the ball was directed goalwards for McTominay to prod the ball through Ryan’s legs and bundle it over the line.
There was a long delay for VAR to check on a suspicion of handball against Maguire. All it proved, in fact, was that the ball hit Dunk’s arm and was put over the line by Davy Propper.
Dunk was one of four Brighton players booked before half-time – Stephens, Martin Montoya and Dan Burn were the others – as the visitors struggled to deal with the pace of James and Rashford down the flanks. Montoya, in particular, was guilty of a scything challenge on Rashford who was also booked before half-time. Williams followed early in the second half with VAR determining that his high boot on Steven Alzate did not merit a red card.
Brighton are a tougher proposition in every sense this season and they could easily have reduced the deficit from two set-pieces in the first half. Both were delivered off the left boot of Leandro Troussard, Shane Duffy guiding the ball wide in front of goal from the first opportunity and Aaron Connolly sending the second off target with a free header.
Potter responded by replacing 19-year-old Connolly with 36-year-old Glenn Murray at the interval, while Montoya made way for Solly March who was given the task of shackling James.
United continued to press, however, and hit the bar when Fred tried his luck from 20 yards. Ryan seemed to have it covered and saved the ball above his head with both hands. However, it somehow slipped from his grasp and the Australian was relieved to catch a rebound off the woodwork.
A set-piece had always looked like Brighton’s best route back into this game and so it proved when Dunk struck in the 64th minute. Substitute Pascal Gross swung over a corner from the left and the Brighton skipper rose above McTominay and Maguire to power a header past David De Gea.
Brighton’s hopes of a comeback lasted less than two minutes, however. Fred, who continues to show significant signs of improvement, fed the ball through to Martial who raced into the box but lost possession due to the combined efforts of Duffy and Ryan. The Frenchman showed great composure to reclaim the ball and pull it back to Rashford who was equally cool in taking his time before smashing a shot in off the underside of the bar.
A frantic few minutes ended with Rashford missing a glaring opportunity to score a fourth for United when James raced away down the right and tricked his way past Dunk before squaring for the England striker. Rashford’s task was made all the more easier by Alzate falling over but he contrived to turn his effort wide of the open goal.
It could have been substantially worse but for the efforts of Ryan, who made two fine saves in quick succession from Williams and James, while Rashford wasted another excellent chance to score another.
An injury to McTominay, who hobbled off in added time after treatment, marred the win slightly but United move up to sixth and are clearly moving forward.