For the second week in a row, Manchester United’s second string put in a disjointed performance that was just enough to get them in a win in the Carabao Cup, and again finished with a scoreline that overstated their performance. Goals from Scott McTominay in the first half and Juan Mata and Paul Pogba in the second secured a win against Brighton & Hove Albion. The Reds are now through to the fifth round of the league cup at the Seagulls’ expense.
Mata, as he often does in matches against second rate opposition, stuck out because of his speed of thought and technical ability. In the 18th minute, the stand-in skipper orchestrated a lovely pass-and-move sequence that played in Odion Ighalo. Unfortunately, the Nigerian striker could only hit the side netting.
Dean Henderson had virtually nothing to do in his full debut last week, and was only slightly busier against Brighton. A sharp low save in the 26th minute was his first action of the match. Beyond that, the only trouble the home side caused United’s goalkeeper in the first half were a pair of hopeful shots that both sailed high and wide.
In the 35th minute, Brandon Williams almost repeated his trick from last week’s league cup tie. The left-back’s driving run took him into the penalty box where he was brought down, but unlike last week, this time the referee did not award United a penalty.
Three minutes before halftime, it was the game’s standout performer who created Manchester United’s opening goal. Mata used a change of pace (!) to beat his defender outside on the right wing (!!), and win a free kick in a dangerous area. The Spaniard took the free kick himself and swung in a perfect ball to meet the head of Scott McTominay — who was gratefully left unmarked. McTominay tucked his header away, and the Reds went into the break with a 1-0 lead.
United spent the first 20 or minutes of the second half much like they did all of the first — looking disjointed and blunt. The only highlights were Mata’s sparks of creativity, and Eric Bailly’s commanding presence at the back. In the 68th minute, Brighton served up a warning. Substitute Leandro Trossard’s snapshot brought an excellent reaction save from Henderson. Moments later, reinforcements arrived: Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford replaced Dan James and Odion Ighalo.
United doubled their lead soon after, but it wasn’t the subs that made the result safe this time — it was man-of-the-match Mata. Donny van de Beek flicked a ball through cleverly to find the run of Mata in the box, and United’s no. 8 took a touch and waited for the perfect opening to place his shot between the defender’s legs and into the goal.
The Reds weren’t done though, and the new arrivals would make their mark on the scoreline. Rashford’s direct running won United a free kick just a couple of yards outside the box, and his fellow substitute Pogba took control of the ball. Pogba curled a good looking shot through a gap in Brighton’s wall, and a helpful deflection saw the ball hit the back of the net.
With another victory and clean sheet, important minutes for members of the squad who are still building match fitness, it was a very satisfying day at the office for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men.