Manchester - Zlatan Ibrahimovic's introduction as a
second-half substitute proved crucial as Manchester United finally discovered a
way to beat newly-promoted Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 at Old Trafford on
The goal came from a 67th-minute corner, conceded by Solomon
March but hotly disputed by the visitors, and their anger increased when Marcus
Rashford's cross was headed out to Ashley Young whose shot took a cruel
deflection off defender Lewis Dunk on its way into the net.
But it had looked like being a frustrating afternoon for Jose
Mourinho until his decision to bring on Swedish veteran Ibrahimovic for his
third substitute outing in a little over a week following a seven-month injury
Brighton had only beaten United once before in their entire
history, 35 years ago, but if they were over-awed by the visit to Old Trafford,
they certainly did not show it.
Indeed, the best chances of the opening exchanges were
carved out by the visitors, sitting proudly in the top 10 of the Premier League
table before kick-off.
Just three minutes had gone when Anthony Knockaert worked
his way to the byline and sent over a dangerous cross which came tantalisingly
close to finding team-mates Glenn Murray and March.
David De Gea was called into action twice in quick
succession, making what turned out to be routine saves to gather shots from
Pascal Gross and the increasingly busy Knockaert.
Brighton's approach certainly made for an open game with
United keen to cut rivals Manchester City's lead at the top of the table to
After two minutes, Romelu Lukaku had played a neat one-two
with Anthony Martial, only to undo the good work by leaning back and shooting
high over the Brighton goal.
A well-aimed Martial cross from the left almost set up
another chance for the Belgian striker but keeper Mathew Ryan rose well to
collect and, in their attempts to get Lukaku more involved, Juan Mata's
24th-minute cross picked out his team-mate but he was unable to put any power
into his headed effort.
After limiting United's attack so convincingly, Albion were
growing in confidence as the half-hour passed and Ryan had still not been
It took until the 33rd minute for United to force so much as
a corner and, a couple of minutes later, when Antonio Valencia crossed
promisingly from the right, it was predictable that Lukaku could only head wide
inside a crowded six-yard box.
In fact, Brighton again looked the more likely to score when
Gross's free-kick was flicked on and Murray flung himself at the ball, narrowly
missing contact with what would have been a spectacular diving header.
And when Ryan was finally tested, in the last minute of the
first half, he proved equal to the task, making a magnificent double save on
his goal line to block a Lukaku header and Paul Pogba's follow-up from a
Brighton retained a strong foothold in the game after the
restart, with Murray coming close to making telling contact on Gross's cross
and Davy Propper shooting over from 25 yards.
United responded, with Mata shooting directly at Ryan,
Lukakau almost playing in Pogba with a back-heel and Young planting a left-foot
But, by the 62nd minute, Mourinho had seen enough and
brought on Ibrahimovic, who won a corner with his first touch and instantly
raised the atmosphere at Old Trafford with the opening goal coming just four
Still, Brighton were undaunted, with Dunk leading a
breakaway charge upfield before flicking a weak shot at De Gea and Knockaert
sending over yet another dangerous low cross-shot which passed just beyond the
In the closing stages, Shane Duffy almost met a far-post
set-piece for Brighton while Ibrahimovic had two shots on goal without managing
to test Ryan.