It was a game that “defied logic” according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, so what did we learn from his Manchester United side’s dramatic injury-time win at Brighton on Saturday?
The facts are these: United won the game courtesy of Bruno Fernandes’ penalty, awarded for handball against Neal Maupay by VAR after the final whistle had already blown.
It was the fifth goal and second spot-kick of a match that also saw the home side strike the woodwork five times and the visitors have two efforts ruled out for offside.
It gives United their first points of the season and consigns Brighton to a second loss from their opening three games of the campaign.
So what else?
- Action and reaction from Brighton v Man Utd, plus the rest of Saturday’s Premier League action
- Man Utd score 100th-minute winner in dramatic finale at Brighton
- Lawro’s predictions v singer-songwriter Declan McKenna
United are ‘catching up’ but still have big strides to make
That is the view of boss Solskjaer, who blamed the inadequacy of the pandemic-affected pre-season his squad had under their belt for the surprise opening-game defeat at home by Crystal Palace.
Having shown just how well they can play in a 3-0 win at Brighton three months ago, United fell well short of that on Saturday, but were better than the shambolic display on show seven days prior.
Marcus Rashford certainly looks to be regaining his sharpness, as evidenced by his superb solo goal to put United 2-1 up, while they also showed impressive resolve to decisively claim the lead again despite losing it so late in the game.
“I am very pleased with the reaction of our players, it was easy to lie down and take a 2-2 draw,” Solskjaer told the BBC. “We need to start games better, we were way off, and we were way off last week too. But we are catching up.
“My happiness is 10 out of 10 today because of the three points but the performance doesn’t get anywhere near a 10 – we all know that.”
The Norwegian continued in the same vein in his post-match press conference.
“We got away with one,” he added. “Maybe one point we deserved, we didn’t deserve more.
“We’ve got to be honest enough to say they created the most chances. They had loads of shots, they had big chances and that’s not what we want. We need to improve a lot in the few weeks coming forward.”
United’s defence has come in for particular criticism of late, despite them having the third-best record in the league last season.
As part of a damning list of things that need improving, Fernandes suggested to BT Sport that it is not just the responsibility of the back five to protect the goal.
“We left so much space for them to play, we were not as aggressive, we gave away two goals. We have to do much better,” he said.
“Brighton did very well but maybe because we are not as aggressive as we want. We need to recover more balls, press better, lose less possession.”
It was a big win for Solskjaer’s side
The loss to Palace was fuel to the rival fans who revel in United defeats and the critics who feel Solskjaer is ill-equipped to get the best out of a talented squad.
Despite it only being United’s second game of the league campaign, a defeat on Saturday to another supposedly inferior side would only have increased the volume of negativity.
“It is an outstanding result for Manchester United in the end,” former Arsenal defender Martin Keown told BBC Sport.
“They looked desolate. Then to score 10 minutes into what we call ‘Fergie time’ was remarkable. That’s a lovely journey back from Brighton now, which is a long one.
“Can you imagine the pressure if they had drawn? It would have been huge.”
Such pressure would have become the narrative in the build-up to next weekend’s Premier League game, which sees Solskjaer’s predecessor as United boss, Jose Mourinho, return to Old Trafford with his Tottenham side.
Although, presumably if United lose that they will be in crisis again?
Two defeats out of three not reflective of Brighton’s start
Saturday’s loss means Brighton have just three points to their name from three games, courtesy of a dominant 3-0 win over Newcastle last weekend.
However, they were unfortunate to get nothing from their opening game against Chelsea and deserved at least a point from the game with United.
They were the superior side for long periods, hit the woodwork five times, saw a penalty overturned by VAR and suffered at the hands of the new interpretation of handball right at the end.
“The performance level was amazing from us, I’m so proud of the players,” Albion boss Graham Potter told BBC Sport. “It’s a sore one, to say the least. Sometimes life isn’t fair and it feels like that at the moment.
“All the little things have gone against us but we were really good for 90 minutes and we have to take that forwards. We have developed as a group, as a team, and we will take that setback as positively as we can.
“I don’t know what the shot count was but we were dominant. We deserved something from the game to say the least.”
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