The Media Review: Manchester United

How the papers and websites saw last night's Amex win.

By Nick Szczepanik • 05 May 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Adam Webster climbs high during the win over Manchester United.

Football writers hate late goals, especially in evening matches.  A last-minute winner or equaliser means a frantic rewriting of intros when already up against deadlines. While fans in the stadium rejoice, the occupants of the press seats are cursing as carefully-crafted opening lines are thrown out and replaced by hurried explanation of the late drama.

Albion have tested the nerves of the scribes with late goals in the past, but never so much as in the 1-0 victory over Manchester United, Alexis Mac Allister’s penalty winner the latest in the club’s top flight history. In theory it was scored in the last of six added minutes, but by the time the ball finally left the spot on its way to the top corner of the net, 99 minutes had passed.

But the reporters all rose to the occasion. And it helped that there was the reference point of the recent penalty shoot-out decider in the FA Cup semi-final between the two teams.

“Once again, it was a gripping contest on so many levels, loaded with incident, drama, argument,” David Hytner wrote in The Guardian. “Once again, it would be decided at the very last from the penalty spot. There was a fundamental difference. This time it was Brighton who cavorted about the pitch when it was over, the victory theirs and with it the revenge.

“It had been impossible to ignore the backstory of the FA Cup semi-final between the teams from the Sunday before last – and not least because the travelling Manchester United fans had been keen to remind everybody who would be going to Wembley for the final.

“On that day United had squeaked home after a 0-0 draw and seven rounds of a penalty shootout, Solly March missing for Brighton. This time, the sting came in the fifth and final minute of stoppage time, the feeling confirmed that a helter-skelter game was building to an inexorable climax.

“There had been chaos in the United area following a Brighton corner, the initial handball shouts against Luke Shaw overtaken when Bruno Fernandes cleared a Kaoru Mitoma shot from in front of his goalline, Alexis Mac Allister flashed over a low cross and Moises Caicedo stepped inside to work David de Gea with a curler.


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Steele: You can't beat a last-minute winner!

“But then everybody went back to that suspect Shaw moment, not least the VAR, Andy Madley. It became clear very quickly that Shaw had pawed the corner away from the head of Lewis Dunk – an inexplicable lapse – and there was only one decision for the referee, Andre Marriner.

“Emotions had run high throughout, with Brighton feeling particularly aggrieved by Marriner’s failure to award them a penalty earlier. Mitoma had a couple of big shouts, although Marriner’s decisions were sound.

“Now we had fever pitch, Mac Allister – who was excellent in central midfield – standing over the kick, Roberto De Zerbi, the Brighton manager, unable to watch. He knew by the roar from the crowd that Mac Allister had scored and, at last, he was able to release all the pent-up frustration. By the end, De Zerbi was talking about justice, how there was a ‘god of football’ because his team ‘deserved to win the semi-final’.

“The scenes of celebration were wild, the points further firing Brighton’s dream of a first European qualification and making things a little more interesting for United in terms of their Champions League push. The major blot on United’s season has been their dismal away form. They have taken just one point from their matches against the three clubs above them and the five below them.

“Brighton’s run-in is tough: they must still face Manchester City, Arsenal and Newcastle. But playing like this, they will fear nobody. They have feared nobody during an outstanding season in which they have created history. Their 55-point haul is a top-flight record for them – three better than their previous best from 1981-82. And that was during a 42-game campaign.”

The Daily Mirror’s chief football writer, John Cross, thought that “revenge has rarely tasted sweeter for Brighton after the most dramatic finish at the Amex. And defeat was such a bitter pill for Manchester United who might just be getting a bit twitchy about their top-four place.


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Mac Allister: A special night for the fans

“The last gasp drama did not arrive until the 99th minute when Alexis Mac Allister smashed home an injury time decider after VAR gave a penalty against Luke Shaw for handball.

“Last month, it was Brighton who suffered heartbreak against United after losing a penalty shoot-out in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. But this time, ironically again from the penalty spot, it was Brighton who got their own back as they made it three straight Premier League wins over United to keep their own European hopes alive.

“And it was no wonder the whole stadium came to life with the finish because, despite the lack of goals, it had been an absolute thriller and one of the best 1-0s you are ever likely to see. Plus, some spice and drama as United winger Antony sparked an ugly bust-up after lashing out against Mac Allister.

“Referee Andre Marriner struggled to control the game all night as he could not handle the ferocity and angry challenges as both teams went all out for the victory which so nearly eluded them. The tackles were flying in; there is too much history between these two teams for there not to be an edge and yet it was Brighton’s raucous fans who deserved their celebrations at the end.

“You could see the contrast between the managers at the final whistle as Roberto De Zerbi - who has been on his sick bed this week - ran onto the pitch to celebrate with the fans as victory was the perfect tonic.”

Riath Al-Samarrai waxed almost lyrical in the Daily Mail. “Every so often a game gets the crescendo it deserves. Every so often an encounter of brilliant, ceaseless madness and mistakes and chances delivers the sort of ending an entire evening has built towards,” he wrote.

“In the context of this nonsensical and marvellous reunion of Brighton and Manchester United, that meant a desperately late penalty. And it had to be one of those, really.

“It was penalties that did for Brighton at Wembley in their FA Cup semi-final less than a fortnight ago and so naturally it was a penalty that did for United here in the sequel. A penalty by Alexis Mac Allister in the ninth minute of stoppage time, if we are to be precise in the recording of these things.

“And yet we cannot get into that straight away, because we need a few words on what preceded it, because for 98 minutes this was a night to celebrate the rare glory of a 0-0 draw. There had been no goals, and no great movement towards where these sides want to be, but it had been a treat nonetheless.

“Scoreless can be fine when scoreless is so entertaining, spread across no fewer than 38 shots, countless tantrums from both benches and overseen by a referee in Andre Marriner who had given Brighton precious little through the evening.

“And then, five minutes into stoppage time, that all turned. A referral went to the VAR because, after the umpteenth wave of Brighton attacks, Luke Shaw appeared to handle at a corner. Shame for him – he had put in another very good shift. 

“And a shame for United because they had ridden so much pressure, and had squandered so many opportunities of their own, but when Marriner went to the monitor the writing was eventually on the screen and then the wall - a penalty.

“The crowd called for Solly March, because it was his missed kick that proved decisive in the FA Cup. But that would be too neat and probably too much pressure.

“So no, instead it was the Argentine, Mac Allister. David De Gea went to his left and the kick thundered in the opposite direction to the top corner. It won’t exorcise the agonies of a Wembley defeat, but it will help.

“It will help Brighton on their mission to end a superb season with European qualification. It will also help Erik Ten Hag sharpen his conviction that he needs a new striker, and most likely Harry Kane after a night in which his side had so many openings and no goals.


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De Zerbi: There must be a god of football!

“But a United win would have been harsh on Brighton. They were excellent when they weren’t fallible. They controlled the game, had the best of it, and were a delight to watch in their strengths and their weaknesses.

“When it was done, Roberto De Zerbi went berserk - he waved like a madman. He has been unwell in recent days and nearly missed this one. As it happens, he rocked up on the mildest of Sussex evenings with a scarf around his neck, and left looking like he had done himself more harm than good.

“At least he had a good time doing so, in what was likely the most dramatic day of an exceptional tenure since he replaced Graham Potter. Currently it has been good for a place in the top six. If they utilise two games in hand on Liverpool, that could be fifth – it is deep into manager of the year territory.”

“Alyson Rudd of The Times wrote that “Brighton & Hove Albion dazzled, sprinted and harried and Erik ten Hag’s team seemed to have withstood the pressure with remarkable stoicism, luck and unwavering self-confidence.

“Alexis Mac Allister took his time as he stood over the penalty. There was a brittle, disbelieving hush, and then the Argentina midfielder walloped the ball beyond David de Gea for the winning goal in the 99th minute. When you next order a “99” from an ice cream van in Brighton you may find yourself cheered by the locals — especially if this victory helps the south-coast club qualify for the Champions League.

“Roberto De Zerbi’s team will surely qualify for one form of European competition and when they do their opponents will not know quite what has hit them. United were equal to the challenge in the first half, but became increasingly less adventurous as though content for a draw that would provide another steppingstone towards their own top-four finish.

“It was all breathless and dizzying. There is no ground elsewhere in the land where you are treated so regularly to such fast-paced entertainment. While it remained goalless at half time, it was as far from a bore draw as you could get.

“United were more attack-minded than most sides have been at the Amex this season, but De Zerbi’s team opted not to pay too much heed to the fact and maintained their expansive approach. There is a freedom in fighting for European football when such a reward was never expected in the first place.”

Nobody provided a better kick-by-kick report than Mark Irwin of The Sun. “Shaw’s last-gasp handball gave Mac Allister the opportunity to settle this extraordinary match with a nerveless shot into the top corner.

“It was the 39th shot of the match and one which means Erik ten Hag’s will finish the season having taken just one point on the road against all the other teams in the Premier League’s top nine. But Brighton are now up to sixth place with games in hand on all the teams above them and dreaming of European qualification for the first time in their history.

“Yet it was apparent right from the off that neither team was going to die wondering as they set out to boost their European aspirations. United should have been ahead in the very first minute when Bruno Fernandes slipped Antony in on goal. But with only keeper Jason Steele to beat, the £82million Brazilian pulled his shot wastefully wide.

“And a couple of minutes later it was the visitors’ turn to fly by the seat of their pants when Victor Lindelof’s loose pass towards Aaron Wan-Bissaka was picked off by Kaoru Mitoma. It looked for all the world as though United were heading for another bout of travel sickness as Mitoma bore down on goal. But his powerful shot smacked David De Gea in the face with such force that the United keeper appeared to be knocked out cold.

“When Mitoma wriggled through a crowd of defenders as De Gea was still recovering his senses, his shot was just the wrong side of the post. And they got lucky again when Alexis Mac Allister’s corner picked out Adam Webster for a powerful downward header which bounced straight into De Gea’s hands.

“Yet it was by no means all one-way traffic and United also had more than their fair share of opportunities during an incredibly open first 45 minutes. Marcus Rashford was denied by the boot of Steele as he looked to squeeze one inside the near post and Antony’s mis-hit shot from the corner almost caught out the Brighton keeper.

“Fernandes put one into Row Z from the edge of the area and Anthony Martial fired straight at Steele after being played in by Fred’s through ball.  Yet while Roberto De Zerbi’s team were wide open at the back, they were irresistible going forward as first Mac Allister and then Facundo Buonanotte were just off target from distance.

“Quite how the game remained goalless after 17 first-half shots was a mystery to leave the watching Gareth Southgate scratching his head. And the England boss would not have been impressed by Rashford’s theatrical attempts to win a penalty when he went down with barely a touch from Lewis Dunk.

“Just 11 days after these teams needed a penalty shoot-out to settle their FA Cup semi-final, there was absolutely nothing to choose between them again. Mitoma put on the afterburners to race away from Wan-Bissaka but couldn’t get any power into his shot and Danny Welbeck had plenty of muscle but no sense of direction when he fired wide shortly after.

“Casemiro, already booked for a cynical foul on Mac Allister, was fortunate to escape a second yellow when he brought down the Argentine World Cup winner again on the edge of the area. And as tempers flared he was joined in Marriner’s notebook by Antony and Dunk for a flare-up sparked by the United winger scything down poor Mac Allister once more.”

Albion admirer Sam Dean of the Daily Telegraph led on United’s travails but was soon extolling the virtues of the team in blue and white once more. He wrote that “there was no trepidation from Brighton in this meeting with Erik ten Hag’s side, and no sense that a so-called smaller team was playing against a so-called footballing giant. Instead it was United’s players who seemed to have fear in their eyes. Especially at the end, when Brighton swarmed around them and one point suddenly became none.

“United, Liverpool and everyone else in contention for the Champions League places must be grateful that this season ends so soon, because Brighton are on the charge and there seems to be no stopping them right now. With more time and more games, Roberto De Zerbi’s team would surely back themselves to finish in the top four. There are certainly not four better sides in the league than the Brighton team of spring 2023.

“United embody the established order that Brighton hope one day to disrupt, and there is a feeling among the fans on the south coast that anything might be doable with De Zerbi in their dugout. Within the squad, too, there is a sense that this is a club with the potential to overthrow the big boys not just in the long-term, but in the near future. 

“A measure of Brighton’s growth as a team this season is that they feel genuinely irritated by their recent FA Cup semi-final defeat by United. They lost on penalties and De Zerbi has said publicly that he feels his side deserved better for their showing on the day. 

“This was therefore revenge of sorts for Brighton, who have overtaken Tottenham Hotspur to move into sixth place – despite playing two games fewer than Spurs – and look destined to qualify for European competition for the first time in their history.

“United could not match their energy or inventiveness all over the pitch, despite their early chances. By the end they were clinging on to a point with desperation on their faces, as blue-and-white shirts ran all over them. Kaoru Mitoma, Solly March and Mac Allister all went close before a corner came in and Shaw raised his arm to the ball.

“Why did he do it? He could not explain. That is pressure for you. Brighton were attacking in waves and United’s resistance was ultimately broken. After the goal, Ten Hag stood with his hands in his pockets, unsure of what to do or say, as his players scratched their heads and wondered what had happened.”