A dramatic injury-time penalty gave Manchester United victory at Brighton and their first three points of the season in a stunning game at Amex Stadium.
A match packed full of incident was settled with the very final kick as Bruno Fernandes coolly stroked in the winning penalty, spotted and awarded via a VAR check for Neal Maupay’s handball from a corner, all after on-field official Chris Kavanagh had blown to signal the end of the match.
Just moments before, Brighton thought they had sealed a point that would have been the least they deserved when Solly March headed in a cross from Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
It was a fitting finale to a madcap, seesaw game that had seen Albion take the lead through a Maupay penalty before United clawed their way back into the ascendency thanks to a Lewis Dunk own goal and a superb solo effort from Marcus Rashford.
As if that wasn’t enough, the home side also struck the woodwork five times (with Leandro Trossard responsible for three of them), saw one awarded penalty overruled by VAR and another potential one waved away by Kavanagh.
On top of that, the visitors had two goals ruled out for offside.
But despite still being far from their best, it is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side who emerge with a first win of the Premier League campaign, helping quieten some of the criticism that followed their surprise opening-game loss to Crystal Palace.
For Brighton, it is a flooring loss at the end of an emotional rollercoaster – their second from three games.
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Action and reaction from Brighton v Man Utd, plus the rest of Saturday’s Premier League action
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United show fighting spirit
It speaks to the shambolic nature of United’s defeat by Palace that such a chaotic and fortunate win is a step forward for Solskjaer’s side.
There was still plenty to be critical about in their display at the Amex – a still ropey-looking defence that tried but ultimately failed to protect a 2-1 lead, a midfield packed with quality but lacking the cohesion witnessed in the run-in last season and a big gulf in quality from first XI to the bench.
Fernandes may have scored the winning penalty, but he was at fault for the one from which Brighton scored the opener, courtesy of a clumsy foul on the again lively Tariq Lamptey.
Harry Maguire played his part in their equaliser to that opener with his presence in the Brighton box forcing Dunk to poke in Nemanja Matic’s headed cross, but he was nowhere when March headed home late on.
However, the United boss can now at least point to a fighting spirit, depth of resolve and signs of sharpness returning to his forward three as pillars on which to build.
Rashford was particularly impressive and involved in much of their good attacking play.
Although he twice wandered slightly offside to cause the ruling out of two goals – firstly for Greenwood and then himself – he made amends with a brilliant solo goal.
Having driven into the box, the England forward turned one way and the next and past flailing Brighton tackles before firing a deflected shot into the net.
David de Gea also deserves some credit for a superb point-blank save to deny Trossard just moments before March’s header sparked the injury-time madness.
Brighton victims of their own profligacy
In the closing stages of the game, the television cameras captured Brighton boss Graham Potter in slow motion in an extended, lip-wobbling exhale, and make no wonder.
Having impressed in defeat by Chelsea before wiping the floor with Newcastle, his side again demonstrated what they are about with a patient, effective and incisive display that should have got them a point and could easily have given them all three.
That they did not get either is partly down to a new handball law that continues to harshly penalise defenders, but also their own failure to take the chances that came their way.
Trossard is a superb player and was central to Albion’s display but he has developed a frustrating knack for hitting the woodwork as opposed to the net.
He was somewhat unfortunate with the two long-range efforts that struck the post in the first half, but he should definitely have scored with the second-half shot that hit the bar.
The salt in Brighton’s wounds is the fact that they had a penalty of their own overturned by VAR after the break, although when they view it back they may agree with the officials that Connolly was pulling Pogba’s shirt before then tumbling under a clumsy challenge.
Just three months ago, Potter’s team were outclassed here by United, going down 3-0 without having laid a glove on them.
This, then, is definite progress and something on which to build once the disappointment of the result subsides.
By quirk of fate, these two get to do it all again on Wednesday, when they meet in a Carabao Cup fourth-round tie.
Brighton claim unwanted record
Brighton hit the woodwork five times in this game, the most team any team has done in a single Premier League game since Opta started recording this data (2003-04).
Manchester United have won each of the past four Premier League meetings with Brighton, their joint-longest winning streak against a current top-flight side (also 4 v Leicester).
Since the start of last season, Manchester United’s Premier League games have produced 20 penalties, the most of any team in that time (15 for, 5 against).
Manchester United have given away a penalty in consecutive Premier League games for the first time since March 2009; it’s the first time the Red Devils have conceded one in both of their first two games in a Premier League campaign.
Tariq Lamptey is the first player ever to win penalties in consecutive Premier League appearances for Brighton.
Manchester United’s David de Gea has saved just two of the 29 penalties he has faced in the Premier League. Of goalkeepers to face 25+ spot-kicks in the competition, only Paul Robinson has saved a lower proportion (6.1% to De Gea’s 6.9%).
Since his Premier League debut in August 2017, Brighton’s Lewis Dunk has scored five own goals in the competition, at least two more than any other player.
Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes has been involved in 17 goals in his 16 Premier League appearances (9 goals, 8 assists).
Fernandes’ goal for Manchester United at 99:45 is the latest scored in the Premier League since Juan Mata’s strike for Chelsea against Norwich in August 2011 (100:03).
Leandro Trossard is the first player to hit the woodwork three times in a Premier League match since Cristiano Ronaldo vs Newcastle United in October 2006.