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Manchester United 2-0 Brighton & Hove Albion: Ronaldo and Fernandes spare United’s blushes

United weren’t great, but came away with all three points.

Manchester United v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images

Manchester United ended their three-game winless run with a 2-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion in Tuesday’s Premier League match at Old Trafford. It was another less-than-impressive performance from Ralf Rangnick’s men, particularly in the first half, but goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes either side of a Brighton red card proved enough for the win.

We’ve become all-too-accustomed to poor performances from United recently, but their first half display was shocking in its style as much as its substance. Rangnick’s side allowed Brighton the freedom of Old Trafford, letting the Seagulls stroke the ball around with almost no pressure at all. United sat deep and let their visitors take command — and Brighton should’ve been ahead long before halftime.

Both sides had early chances, with a terrible pass from the terrible Fred gifting Brighton the ball in the final third after five minutes. Polish midfielder Jakub Moder slipped through on goal, only to be denied by David de Gea at the near post. Seconds later, an equally bad mistake from Brighton centre-half Adam Webster allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to nick possession deep in the Seagulls half, though Robert Sánchez made a fine save to deny the overlapping Jadon Sancho.

That proved the first and last United chance of the entire half. From there, it was one-way traffic, with Brighton in total control of possession. By halftime they’d recorded over twice as many shots as their hosts, and enjoyed almost 60% of the possession.

Despite their dominance, the visitors had to wait until the final few minutes of the first half before creating another clear-cut chance. Joël Veltman floated a cross into the box from the right, which Moder met with a bullet header, though de Gea was on hand to make a superb sprawling save. Moments later a poor pass from Bruno Fernandes gifted Yves Bissouma a shooting chance on the right side of the box, though his low drive fizzed wide of the far post.

How relieved Rangnick must have felt, then, when Ronaldo broke the deadlock with a moment of brilliance five minutes into the second half. Scott McTominay caught Bissouma napping midway inside his own half, with Ronaldo sweeping up possession, driving towards goal, and stabbing a low, flat shot past Sánchez and inside the post from the edge of the box.

Within a couple of minutes, Brighton were dealt an even bigger blow, when centre-half Lewis Dunk was adjudged after a VAR review to have denied Anthony Elanga an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Dunk was shown the red card, and United — shattering any notion of cosmic justice — found themselves a goal and a man to the good.

Ronaldo might have killed the game off with just over 20 minutes left, when a short corner was whipped into the box by Fernandes. Ronaldo powered the ball goalwards at the near post, though Brighton keeper Sánchez made a solid save. Moments later, Fernandes fluffed an even better chance, denied from point-blank range after Ronaldo intercepted a sloppy Sánchez pass and squared into the box.

Chances continued to flow, with Fernandes and Ronaldo invariably at the heart of United’s attacking play. With a quarter-of-an-hour left, Fernandes dinked a cross towards the far post, though Ronaldo contrived to head wide at the back stick.

There was a nagging fear that United would be made to pay for their profligacy, and so it might have proved with just over 10 minutes left. A long range shot from the impressive Moder rose to crash against the crossbar, leaving home supporters gasping sighs of relief. Former United man Danny Welbeck had a great chance of his own in the final minute of the 90, though he got under Tariq Lamptey’s cross and headed over the crossbar.

In the end, it took until the 97th minute for United to score their second and seal the points. A quick Paul Pogba free-kick sent Fernandes scampering down the right and into the penalty area, and he kept his cool to wrong-foot Sánchez and slot home.