BRUNO Fernandes held his nerve to convert a penalty awarded after the final whistle following the intervention of VAR with the last kick of the game to get Manchester United’s Premier League campaign up and running moments after Brighton thought they had secured a point in the dramatic final moments of this game.
Solly March had brought the home level equalised in the fifth minute of added time when United launched a final attack in the dying seconds. Harry Maguire’s header from a corner was cleared off the line, prompting referee Chris Kavanagh to call time, causing protests from Maguire and his team-mates that the ball had struck the arm of Brighton’s Neal Maupay on its way goalwards.
VAR agreed, suggesting Kavanagh review the incident on the pitchside monitor where the match official spotted the infringement and pointed to the spot. Fernandes placed his spot-kick past Mat Ryan and a first league win of season was somehow United’s after Kavanagh blew the final whistle for a second time.
It was not the first time in the game VAR had denied Brighton. At the start of the second half, Kavanagh was persuaded to review, and subsequently overturn, his decision to award a penalty after Aaron Connolly went down under a challenge from Paul Pogba. Add to that the fact that the home side hit the woodwork five times and it was hard not feel Albion had been hard done by.
This was a far from convincing performance by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side but they had headed into added time believing they had secured three points through Marcus Rashford’s 55th minute finish. They could not claim to deserve that lead that came after United had equalised through a Lewis Dunk own goal four minutes after Maupay had given Brighton a 38th minute lead with a penalty.
For United manager Solskjaer, however, the result was what mattered most.
By the 30th minute Albion had struck the woodwork three times – twice through Leandro Trossard and once from Adam Webster – while United had struggled to test Mat Ryan, the home keeper.
They finally forced a 38th-minute lead after Fernandes clipped Tariq Lamptey’s heels to concede a penalty that was converted by a nerveless Maupay who beat De Gea with a Panenka-style finish.
United responded quickly, levelling four minutes later when Trossard brought Fernandes down on the left of the Brighton box and the United midfielder delivered another telling cross that was turned back across goal by Nemanja Matic – fortunate to escape with a yellow card after putting his hand in Connolly’s face moments earlier – turned the ball back across goal where it deflected in off Dunk.
United’s relief was evident, but it looked as though it would be short-lived when Connolly was brought down by Paul Pogba two minutes into the second half before VAR intervened.
Five minutes later, VAR was involved again, this time to rule out an effort from Rashford for offside. But there was no question about Rashford’s 55th-minute effort that eventually split the two teams. The striker was sent clear from halfway by Fernandes’s long pass and after turning Ben White inside out, he calmly placed a left foot shot past Ryan.
Brighton continued to press and eventually drew level when March was allowed to head home at the far post in added time. Fernandes, though, would still have the chance to settle the outcome.
Afterwards Solskjaer pointed to the character of his side but admitted there was still much to work on
“We got away with one,” he told BT Sport.
“Maybe one point we deserved, we didn’t deserve more. But the character deserved more.
“Last season we had too many draws, so that is a big plus for us. You have to be happy Jose is not here to measure the goalposts.
“They are a difficult team to play against. We don’t have the legs and sharpness but we will get there. We have plenty of work ahead.”
Brighton boss Graham Potter told BBC Sport:
“The performance level was amazing from us, I’m so proud of the players. It’s a sore one, to say the least. Sometimes life isn’t fair and it feels like that at the moment.
“All the little things have gone against us but we were really good for 90 minutes and we have to take that forwards. We have developed as a group, as a team, and we will take that setback as positively as we can.
“I don’t know what the shotcount was but we were dominant. We deserved something from the game to say the least.”
BRIGHTON (3-4-3): Ryan 6; White 6, Dunk 7, Webster 7; Lamptey 7, Lallana 7 (Gross 74, 6), Alzate 8, March 7; Trossard 8, Connolly 7 (Jahanbakhsh 74, 6), Maupay 7.
Substitutes: Steele, Bernardo, Burn, Veltman, Molumby,.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): De Gea 6; Wan-Bissaka 6, Lindelof 5, Maguire 6, Shaw 6; Pogba 5 (Fred 65, 6), Matic 6; Greenwood 6 (Bailly 83, 6), Fernandes 7, Rashford 7; Martial 5 (van de Beek, 90, 6).
Substitutes: Henderson, Fosu-Mensah, Lingard, McTominay.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh 6