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drought over Cristiano Ronaldo’s solo stunner and Lewis Dunk red card put United back in top-four hunt

Manchester United 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 0


Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) scores their side's first goal against Brighton at Old Trafford. Photo: PA

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) scores their side's first goal against Brighton at Old Trafford. Photo: PA

Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) scores their side's first goal against Brighton at Old Trafford. Photo: PA

Cristiano Ronaldo ended his goal drought and moved Manchester United back into the Champions League places but there is still much work to be done for them to look like a genuine top-four team.

Ralf Rangnick had bemoaned the split personality of the team he has been put in temporary charge of, and this was another example of the trait. They were booed off at half-time and created nothing without the help of Brighton’s mistakes, yet always have a puncher’s chance with Ronaldo in their team.

Ronaldo’s goal, just after the interval, ended a run of six club games without a goal. It was his first goal of 2022 and only his third under Rangnick, whose team were helped by Lewis Dunk’s red card and added a second through Bruno Fernandes in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

Rangnick has only lost one Premier League game but they are scrapping their way to results.

This match was rearranged from December, when United were engulfed by a Covid-19 outbreak and closed their Carrington training ground as a result. Their problems on the pitch have only magnified since returning to action.

United were dealt a blow before kick-off when Raphael Varane felt ill, which brought Victor Lindelof into the team and broke up a centre-back partnership that had overseen the previous three 1-1 draws.

Brighton, on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run, worked David de Gea early after moves that ended with shots from Jakub Moder and Alexis Mac Allister.

Their first big threat came from a mistake of their own doing. Adam Webster miscontrolled a punt in his direction and Ronaldo was lurking behind him. He unselfishly backheeled to Jadon Sancho and it required a good save from Robert Sanchez to keep out the finish.

De Gea was the busier of the two Spanish goalkeepers and plucked a save from the top corner after Moder got on the end of Joel Veltman’s cross. Moments later, there was a let-off for United when Moder played through Yves Bissouma, but his finish was wide.

United fans made their feelings clear at the interval yet the match turned on its head in two minutes after the restart. Bissouma, hitherto faultless, was robbed by Scott McTominay and it fell to Ronaldo, who skipped around Webster and unleashed into the corner.

No sooner had the Stretford End’s groans turned to cheers, there was another flashpoint to celebrate. Anthony Elanga, preferred to Marcus Rashford in the starting XI, pinched the ball off Dunk and the Brighton captain hauled down the young forward. When Peter Bankes was asked to look at his pitchside monitor his yellow card turned into a red.

Ronaldo could have added another but was thwarted by Sanchez’s acrobatic save while Moder responded by crashing against De Gea’s crossbar from 25 yards. Danny Welbeck, given a warm reception, almost silenced the home fans when he headed over in the final minute, but Fernandes settled their nerves.

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Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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