Manchester United got off to a characteristically slow start, going a goal down at home, yet came back to beat Brighton & Hove Albion 2-1 to strengthen their grip on second place in the Premier League.
Former Striker Haunts united Again
Not for the first time since leaving Old Trafford, Danny Welbeck scored against his former club, heading home the rebound after a fine reflex save from Dean Henderson looked to have kept him out.
The strike was Welbeck’s fourth against his former club, and put his club on course for an unlikely result in their much-needed fight against relegation.
However, United came out a much more positive side in the second half, and equalised thanks to a fine finish from Marcus Rashford in the 62nd minute
Mason Greenwood The Difference Maker
In a second season that hasn’t quite lived up to that of his debut, Mason Greenwood has re-found his scoring touch, and at just the right time as United limp towards the finish line.
He was in the right place at the right time in the 83rd minute, much like his manager was throughout his playing career, and capitalised on the open space he found inside the box to head home his first senior United goal.
Finding A Way To Win
Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-winning sides were renowned for finding ways to win, and that quality has sadly been lacking at Old Trafford since his retirement.
Today though the team showed the composure, character and quality needed to fight at the top of the league, something that pleased their manager as they ground out a hard-fought win.
“I thought we started well but when they scored, after that we couldn’t find our rhythm again and we needed half-time to compose ourselves and go again. In the second half we played some good stuff.”
“The second half was nothing tactically [different] from what we wanted in the first half. It was more runs in behind, more movement, better movement. Sometimes after international breaks it takes time and then maybe the fireworks have to be lit at half-time. It was a very good second half,’ said Solskjaer.
After being wasteful for much of the season, the manager was pleased to see the hard work in training paying off, with clinical finishes from both Rashford and Greenwood.
“The first one was from good play by Bruno, with a great finish by Marcus. That’s my favourite type of finish, when the striker’s in control. He’s in control of the whole situation. The corners are always open and it’s a big goal, so a good finish. And the second goal overall [from Greenwood] was a very, very good goal – a diving header, or a header inside the six-yard box.”
“He’s (Greenwood) coming good at the right time. We’ve said it for months really, he’s played some great football, he’s maturing. Today I thought he was one of our best performers in the first half. Neat and tidy, he got hold of the ball. Sometimes he had a change of pace, he drove past people, he hit the post. He hit one that goes over the bar which was a bit scuffed, but he was there, he’s always there.”
“He [Mason] has learned from Edi! And of course it’s important when Edinson is here now, he’s not going to play football forever, but the traits, his movement, he [Mason] has probably picked up. Mason needs to add goals like that to his tally, because we know what a wonderful talent he is. He played really well tonight and when he can add those goals, we know we’ve got a top forward there.”
Manchester United Making Incremental Improvements
Solskjaer has made much of the improvements made under his watch, both on the pitch and within the dressing room environment.
However, fans want to see wins and trophies, not talk.
One key marker of how far the club has come on the pitch is this season they have secured 25 points from losing positions, something that was unthinkable as little as 12 months ago.
“[That shows] excellent spirit, attitude, character and of course, quality to come back. Sometimes the game doesn’t work you the way you want it to. I thought we started brightly, played some good stuff, but if you make some easy mistakes in your own half too many times, you’ll get punished and they punished us. So we had to react again – as you’ve said, we’ve done that so many times. It’s not a position you want to be in but these boys now have showed time and time again that we can compose ourselves and keep building momentum and creating chances.”
“You always want to perform because the better you perform, the more chance you have of getting a result. But sometimes you’ve just got to find a way to win. We’ve built momentum, we’ve built pressure, we’ve got players with quality and we managed to find a way.”
The Race For Second Intensifies
Manchester United are now four points clear of Leicester in second position, with the two sides squaring off at Old Trafford on May 11.
Before then though, United have tricky away games at Tottenham, Leeds, and Aston Villa, as well as a home game against Liverpool to navigate, so every result will be crucial in the run-in.
“Yes but we’re not going to rest. We fight for our lives, the boys fight to play in the team. I’ve got a good squad, they know that there’s competition for places. We fight as long as we can to move up the table. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else does, as long as we win and we get our points because we’re in second place. It’s a long way up [to first] but second place we want to consolidate that one. We want to at least keep that one and we’ve got a big game on Thursday [in the Europa League] as well,” concluded the manager.
Thoughts of second place will be put on hold for now though, as United turn their attention to the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final against Granada on Thursday.