Manchester United recorded a 3-2 win away at Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, in what was the most dramatic match we’re likely to see this Premier League season. The Reds came from behind to take the lead against a highly impressive Brighton, only to lose and then regain their slender advantage in second half stoppage time, sealing the points with the very last kick of the game.
The first half did not make pretty viewing for United fans, with Brighton clearly the better of the two sides. The Seagulls didn’t dominate possession, but carefully controlled the game through intense pressing and quick counter-attacks. It looked, rather damningly, like a contest between a well-coached Brighton, and a rather less well-coached United.
Particularly dangerous was Brighton attacker Leandro Trossard, who twice hit the post in the game’s opening quarter. Too easily the Belgian found space either side of United’s midfield pivot, and was unlucky not to break the deadlock with a couple of spectacular shots from the edge of the area.
United offered very little in attack, and were largely unable to impose themselves in possession or find space behind the Seagulls’ well-drilled back three. An exception came just after the half-hour, when some intricate movement from Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood culminated in the latter stabbing past Mat Ryan for the opener. Alas, Rashford had strayed offside in the build-up, and the goal was chalked off.
Within a few minutes, Brighton had a deserved lead. Bruno Fernandes made a stupidly clumsy attempt to tackle Tariq Lamptey, and felled the young defender in the penalty area. The referee pointed to the spot, and Neal Maupay chipped a cheeky panenka past David de Gea for 1-0.
But Brighton’s lead lasted only a few minutes, and by halftime United were level. Fernandes made amends for his clumsy tackle with a smart free-kick from wide on the left, swinging the ball towards the far post, where Nemanja Matić was waiting to nod the ball back into the six-yard box. Harry Maguire prodded the ball goalwards from point-blank range, though the last touch was from Brighton defender Lewis Dunk, and the equaliser went down as a scrappy own goal.
The start of the second half was eventful to say the least. The referee awarded Brighton another penalty within moments of the restart, when Aaron Connolly went down in the box under pressure from Paul Pogba. After a lengthy VAR review — which included the referee consulting the pitchside screen — the decision was overturned. Video review was soon called into action again, this time cancelling a United goal for offside for the second time in the match.
Brighton appeared to be growing frustrated, and began to leave space in behind. It was punished ten minutes after the restart, when Rashford was sent surging down the left. He jinked his way into the penalty area and left Ben White on his backside, before firing into the top corner and sending United into the lead.
However, the game was far from over, and United were given the equivalent of icy water over the head on the hour, when wing-back Solly March rattled the far post from the left side of the penalty area. Ole Gunnar Solskjær responded with a defensive substitution, introducing Fred for a largely ineffective Paul Pogba.
Quite incredibly, Brighton hit the frame of the goal for the fifth time inside the final quarter-hour, with Trossard completing a rather unwanted hat-trick. A lofted, diagonal pass from Alireza Jahanbakhsh sent the Belgian through at the back stick, though after a fine first-touch, Trossard smashed the ball against de Gea’s crossbar. It was one-way traffic, and United were clinging to their slender lead.
Further chances fell Brighton’s way, including yet another golden opportunity for Trossard from inside the six-yard box, but it took until the final minute of stoppage time before the Seagulls levelled things up. Left wing-back March, who had squandered a sequence of second half chances, finally hit the back of the net, heading in a beautiful Jahanbakhsh cross for 2-2.
But incredibly, the drama wasn’t over. Immediately from the kickoff, United earned a corner, which was met in the middle by Maguire. His header took a nick off the arm of Maupay before March headed it off the line, and the referee awarded another penalty. Bruno Fernandes stepped up to take, and with the last kick of the match, hit the back of the net. United took all three points, by the very slimmest of margins. Now breathe.