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NICK SZCZEPANIK'S PRESS VERDICT: MANCHESTER UNITED

20 January 2019

Paul Hazlewood
Nick Szczepanik gives us the view from the press box.
Saturday brought another defeat by a top six club, and another set of media reactions that concentrated, as you would expect, on the performance of Albion’s opponents. But most fans would probably take lengthy write-ups at the top of the sports pages of the main papers and websites over mentions in the League One roundup.
 
And while the majority of reports quite logically concentrated on Manchester United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer equalling the best start by a Premier League manager and Marcus Rashford’s spectacular winner, most writers admitted that Chris Hughton’s men had given Old Trafford a late scare. 
 
 
Mark Critchley, on the Independent website, was moved to invent a new word to describe Rashford's goal. “A Paul Pogba penalty and Rashford’s virtuosic strike - lofted into the top corner from an acute angle - ultimately proved enough to overcome Chris Hughton’s hard-working Brighton side, despite Pascal Gross responding deep into the second half,” he wrote.
 
“This was the sort of awkward afternoon that the United of only a few months ago, bereft of belief in their own abilities, would have drawn or quite easily lost.
 
“Brighton might have quickly pulled level had they taken advantage of a bright quarter-of-an-hour spell after the goal, when Glenn Murray twice fired wide of David de Gea’s left-hand post. Yet shortly before the interval, Rashford doubled United’s lead, crowning his landmark appearance with a splendid goal.
 
“The goal’s quality was best captured by Gross’ reaction. The Brighton playmaker tried to stand Rashford up, only to be turned inside out and left to only watch as the ball flew into the far corner at a narrow angle. Gross turned back and looked down at the spot where he had been beaten, as if to ask: ‘How on earth has he scored from there?’
 
“United’s failure to add a third allowed for Brighton to claw their way back in, with Gross atoning for his part in United’s second. [He] positioned himself between Dalot and Phil Jones as Davy Propper’s cross hung menacingly over the penalty area.
 
“Jones, under pressure from substitute Florin Andone, could not turn quick enough to prevent Gross from turning the ball against the underside of the crossbar and over the goal-line. Out of nothing, Brighton had a route back in.
 
“For the remainder, Rashford’s speed was no longer an outlet, Pogba’s influence waned and the visitors looked likeliest to score.”
 
 
Jamie Jackson, now a cult crime novelist as well as The Guardian’s Manchester man, also praised Rashford but gave Albion their due.
 
“Brighton’s response [to Paul Pogba’s opening goal] was to pepper United’s area aerially and the home side just about dealt with it,” he wrote.
 
“When Hughton’s side tried some slide-rule stuff they carved a chance for Glenn Murray but the No 9’s attempt was a pea roller that gave David De Gea no cause for concern.”
 
And after Rashford made it 2-0, “Brighton showed backbone by pulling one back: Davy Pröpper’s ball with the outside of his boot was missed by Phil Jones and Gross made no mistake. Despite a nervy finish neither did United in closing the contest out.
 
“Solskjær said: ‘The last 20 minutes we were in trouble. You can’t always play fantasy football. At times we did and it’s a great three points’."
 
 
Ian Herbert, one of the most promising sports writers in what used to be called Fleet Street – actually just off Kensington High Street in the case of the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday – went back as far as Sir Matt Busby in his search for comparisons for Solskjaer’s United side.
 
But he came closer to the present day in his assessment of Albion’s performance of two halves.
 
“Brighton’s first half struggle to make any impression carried echoes of Old Trafford’s overwhelming effect in the days before Sir Alex Ferguson, whose presence has been indefinably restored, stepped down,” he wrote. “Hughton’s midfield was overrun, though the defence showed some resolve with backs to the wall. Shane Duffy cleared off the line.
 
“The hope for the visiting side lay in the defensive vulnerability which beset Jose Mourinho’s team and – as David de Gea’s need for 11 saves at Wembley revealed last weekend - has not been extinguished overnight. Opportunity knocked briefly for Glenn Murray, who fired wide of David de Gea’s left post after Solomon March had laid a ball behind Herrera and into his path.
 
“Brighton’s light did not go out and after United failed to build on their lead - Martial firing over after weaving into the box – they pulled a goal back. Jurgen Locadia located Davy Propper whose smart cross from the left with his right outstep located Pascal Gross in space between Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof, from where he smartly scored.
 
“Hughton’s players were buoyed and the last ten minutes brought a test. David de Ge did well to punch away with one first under pressure from the advancing Duffy, but missed a free kick launched in the same direction and needed substitute Romelu Lukaku to clear away.
 
"Herrera covered ground to repel the threat of a Locadia breakaway down the Brighton left and Lindelof blocked a low cross. The whistle brought mighty relief.”
 
 
 
James Ducker, for the Sunday Telegraph, blamed a United defender for Albion’s goal, but also highlighted United’s reaction at the end.
 
“Lindelof should have done better for Brighton’s goal - his only false step all afternoon. Opting to stand off Davy Propper, he invited the Brighton midfielder to cross. Gross showed a calm head to take the ball down on his chest and crash a shot high into the net.
 
“United had been forced to make a few last ditch clearances from crosses throughout the game but Gross’ goal was the cue for Brighton to bombard United aerially and the relief at the final whistle palpable.”
 
Opinions on Gross’s goal were divided. For the Manchester Evening News, “Pascal Gross slammed a brilliant strike past David de Gea to keep Brighton in the tie.” The official United website said that “it was a simple response with Davy Propper crossing for Gross to control on his chest and poke into the net, via the underside of the bar.”
 
 
Matt Davis of BBC.co.uk pointed out – as if we needed reminding - that Albion struggle away to the big six. “Chris Hughton's side have won eight points away from the Amex Stadium this season and have just four away wins since joining the Premier League last season,” he wrote. “They particularly struggle against the top sides.
 
“Following last week's defeat by Liverpool [which, he might not have noticed, was at the Amex] and Saturday's loss at Old Trafford, they have now lost all nine of their Premier League away games against 'big six' sides by an aggregate score of 19-2.
 
“A double change on the hour mark with the introductions of Florin Andone and Anthony Knockaert provided the attacking impetus the Seagulls needed.
 
“Brighton finished the stronger, their attacks and crosses sparking panic in the United team, but it came too late.
 
"’The biggest disappointment is the goals we conceded,’ said Hughton. ‘I thought we very much gave them a game.
 
"’We will need lots of that come the end of the season but I thought there was a chance for us today.
 
"’We needed a bit more quality in the final third and in general.’
 
“Asked about bringing players in January, he added: ‘You can never say never but I don't think it will be the case. Possibly one or two will be going out on loan."
 
 
 
Finally, another contribution from the Manchester United website, whose report took slight liberties with language in its desire to pile praise on their heroes before admitting that Chris Hughton’s men had caused them problems.
 
“The home side were at our adventurous attacking best in a first-half inspired by goals from Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, with the latter an outrageous highlight, but the Seagulls pulled one back through Pascal Gross to turn a stroll into something of a late sweat.
 
“The game went into a quiet spell and Solskjaer prepared to inject new life into his side as he sent Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata to the touchline, stripped and ready to come on. But before the Belgian and Spaniard could be released into the action, Brighton stunned the Reds by clawing a goal back in the 72nd minute.
 
“Lukaku had to get his warm coat back on again as Solskjaer and his staff assessed the new situation. Mata eventually came on for Lingard but it was now a rejuvenated Brighton, posing questions for United.
 
“The match had suddenly taken on a completely different slant as the Seagulls sensed they could cause an upset.
 
“It was a test of nerve as Brighton launched late attacks in search of the equaliser but the Reds swapped verve for grit and saw the game out to secure yet another win for Solskjaer.”

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