Thursday 22 August 2019

United keep pressure on City with laboured Brighton victory

Manchester United 1 Brighton 0

Ashley Young celebrates after his deflected effort puts Manchester United in front against Brightonto. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA
Ashley Young celebrates after his deflected effort puts Manchester United in front against Brightonto. Photo: Martin Rickett/PA

Jamie Jackson

Manchester United did what was required by defeating Brighton & Hove Albion and closing the gap to Manchester City to five points, until this afternoon at least.

The uneven form of Jose Mourinho's side was again evident, yet all that matters as they play catch up with City is to put some pressure on the Premier League leaders.

Pep Guardiola's side are at Huddersfield Town in the 4pm kick-off and though they are firm favourites to take three points, United's fortunate winner deflected in off Brighton defender Lewis Dunk gives them something to ponder.

Mourinho made seven changes, with only Chris Smalling, Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku surviving from Wednesday's 1-0 loss at Basel while Chris Hughton retained 10 of the Brighton XI that drew 2-2 with Stoke City on Monday, Solly March coming in for Jose Izquierdo.

Brighton’s Davy Propper holds off Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters
Brighton’s Davy Propper holds off Manchester United's Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. Photo: Andrew Yates/Reuters

This chance to apply pressure on City began with Lukaku making a hash of a chance to test Mathew Ryan, the Brighton goalkeeper. The No 9 had been slick in swapping passes with Martial but there was nothing smooth in the way a 25-yard attempt was ballooned over.

For Brighton Gaetan Bong made an equally bad error when trying to flip the ball to March over Antonio Valencia near goal. He managed only to give possession to United's captain, who found Paul Pogba and the midfielder should have done better with his delivery into the area.

After the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield last month Mourinho complained of his players' attitude. Yesterday, there was a suggestion of a similar issue. Bruno Saltor, the visiting captain, was able to cut through United's rearguard down the right too easy before finding Pascal Gross. His shot was saved by David de Gea but United continued to slumber.

The next Brighton break came along this same flank. When March looked up he should have found a team-mate. Instead, Juan Mata cleared and left Hughton a frustrated figure in the technical area.

The opening half was a similar display to the Basel loss; United dominating but unable to score. Instead, once more, Bruno launched a Brighton attack and when the ball came to Davy Propper Mourinho's side were scrambling again to clear. Valencia did manage to stand one cross up for Lukaku but his header went to Ryan's right.

Earlier Mourinho had been engaged in words with the fourth official. When Valencia was adjudged to have fouled when claiming the ball cleanly there may have been more from the United manager if Gross's subsequent free-kick had found the jumping Glenn Murray's head near the penalty spot.

Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku in action with Brighton’s Solly March. Photo:/Andrew Yates/Reuters
Manchester United's Romelu Lukaku in action with Brighton’s Solly March. Photo:/Andrew Yates/Reuters

United ended the period with a Lukaku point-blank header being smothered near the line and Pogba left stricken from the same incident. But, thankfully for the home team, he re-entered the fray.

The second half began with Smalling being sold a dummy that left him in a differing postcode but Gross's ball in disappointed. Moments later, when Marcus Rashford attempted a similar trick on Bong, he ran into the left-back and fell to the floor.

For United to prosper Pogba needed to become more of a factor as he was in the 4-1 win over Newcastle United the previous weekend. Instead, it was the so-far maligned Victor Lindelof who fired up United and the home crowd with a sliding tackle on Gross. It left the No 11 prone and the travelling support booing as those in red shirts played on, but suddenly Old Trafford had voice.

This ratcheted up further when Mourinho took off the anonymous Mata for Zlatan Ibrahimovic with 62 minutes gone. While it remained goalless, United were in danger of a similar late loss to that suffered in Switzerland.

Now, though, came Young's intervention. A Rashford corner came to the left-back, he shimmied, then left fly and the ball went in off the unfortunate Dunk.

Whether Lukaku got the final touch for the corner may have been of some dispute but United hardly cared. What they had to do now was protect the lead.

While a Brighton breakaway featuring Dunk needed a last-gasp intervention from the United defence, this first top-flight meeting between the teams in 34 years ended as United would have wished.

But there may be concern from Mourinho that the early-season fluidity and barrage of goals has tapered off. The sole strike here took the tally to seven in the last six league outings, a paltry return following a prolific start of 21 in the opening seven.

(Observer)

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