Manchester United’s upturn in form continued as Andreas Pereira and Marcus Rashford struck in a 3-1 victory over Brighton at Old Trafford that was even more comfortable than the scoreline suggested. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side also benefitted from a first half own goal from Davy Propper to recover from an unproductive spell that had seen them score just four times in their last four home league games.
United moved to within a point of the top five after scoring twice in two first half minutes and, although both came after significant deflections off Brighton defenders, it was no more than Solskjaer’s side deserved.
Fielding the youngest starting line-up of any team in the Premier League this season – 23 years, 350 days – United made an energetic opening with Rashford coming closest to a goal, with a committed run and powerful shot which Mat Ryan saved well.
But on 17 minutes a United counter-attack saw Fred find Anthony Martial. His link with Pereira, whose shot took an unkind deflection off Dale Stephens, wrong-footing Ryan on its way in.
United supporters were still celebrating that opener when they were handed double cause for celebration from a deep free-kick that Fred floated into the Brighton area.
Harry Maguire rose powerfully, causing panic for Ryan and his defence, and with Brighton slow to react, Scott McTominay forced the ball over the line, via a final touch by Davy Propper.
Not even the inevitably drawn-out delay for a VAR check, over whether Maguire had handled or Ryan fouled in the build-up to the goal, could dilute the joy of home supporters.
It was a scintillating spell of football from a side that, before Thursday’s Europa League win over Partizan Belgrade, had not scored two first half goals at Old Trafford for nearly 10 months since Brighton’s last visit in mid-January.
After some low moments so far this season, including a dispiriting 1-0 defeat at Bournemouth last weekend, United were on their way to a fifth victory in their last six league and cup games.
This is United’s best run since Solskjaer first took over from Jose Mourinho at the turn of the year.
Brighton were looking for their first ever victory at Old Trafford but rarely threatened in the first half beyond a couple of set-piece deliveries.
And if Fred had been more fortunate with a 61st minute strike that Ryan fumbled onto his bar to catch at the second attempt, the afternoon could have been far more comfortable.
As it was, there was worry for United on 64 minutes when Brighton halved arrears from a Pascal Gross corner, met by Lewis Dunk who headed in from six yards despite the close attention of Maguire.
United’s response was swift and clinical, however, with the Reds restoring their two-goal cushion just two minutes later.
It came from a blistering counter-attack and a beautifully-weighted through ball from Fred which Martial took in his stride, brushing off Shane Duffy and rounding Ryan before pulling back for Rashford to convert.
Rashford would follow that, moments later, with an astonishing miss as he failed to find the back of an open net from six yards after fine work and accurate cross from Dan James.
Teenage full-back Brandon Williams, making his first ever league start, James and Rashford were all denied by Ryan as United threatened to make the victory even more emphatic, but settled for three goals and a very welcome three points.