Match Review – Manchester United 2-0 Brighton

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Sentences you never thought you would write part number 123 for this current football season – Brighton and Hove Albion were the better side in their FA Cup Quarter Final against Manchester United.

For all the sense of pride that Saturday night at Old Trafford produced and the feeling of promise for the future when we are going toe to toe with one of the best multi million pound squads in the league, there is that nagging sense of what might have been.

What might have been, had we had a little more luck? What might have been, had Jurgen Locadia packed his scoring boots? What might have been, had Anthony Knockaert not thrown his toys out the pram and attempted to break Leighton Baines’ legs the previous week and thus been available for selection? What might have been, had Glenn Murray – the third highest scorer in the top flight in 2018 – been on the pitch for more than 15 minutes.

That isn’t to say that Chris Hughton got his selection wrong. Both Locadia and Leonardo Ulloa need game time as neither has had much of a look since their arrivals in January thanks to Murray’s superlative form. The importance of the game – and the fact we only need two more wins to he pretty much guaranteed Premier League football for next season – meant Hughton named a pretty much first choice side, bar Tim Krul in goal. And Krul isn’t exactly a bad number two to have, either.

Hate Manchester United all you want, but there was something truly magical about Old Trafford under lights as the snow fell. In these days of health and safety and political correctness, its rare you get the chance to see a game of football break out if so much as one snowflake hits the ground so this was reminiscent of something out of the 1960’s and where else would you want to watch football from the 60’s than the Theatre of Dreams with the Busby Babes and Georgie Best running the show?

This United side are nowhere near the heights of those predecessors, but take nothing away from the Albion. Not many teams will go to Old Trafford and record more shots, shots on target and have the same number of corners as the hosts. For all the criticisms of Hughton earlier in the season about bus parking and handbrake pulling, there is no doubting who wanted to win this one more and it wasn’t The Special One.

The Albion started quite defensively but grew into the game as it went on. It was against the run of play when Romelu Lukaku put them 1-0 ahead, getting in behind Lewis Dunk to head in a Nemanja Matic cross after good work from Luke Shaw. Shaw was hauled at half time and received another public dressing down from Jose Mourinho afterwards. We’d ask Mr Hughton for some advice on man management if we were you, Jose.

The Albion had a remarkable 12 shots in the second half. Locadia missed four of those, seeing two saved by Sergio Romero and heading a glorious chance wastefully over from a Solly March cross. The Dutchman scored on his full debut against Coventry City in the last round and although it was hugely encouraging that he was getting in the positions to have so many chances against such a good side, his conversion rate remains a slight concern based on his two starts so far.

Pascal Gross was the other man to squander two opportunities although his were far more difficult and both came about through typical inventiveness from the German. For all the praise lavished on Dunk, Shane Duffy, Maty Ryan and Jose Izquierdo this season, keeping hold of Gross this summer could be one of our most important pieces of businesses, especially if Germany hose up in the World Cup again and creative midfielders from the Fatherland become all the rage.

The Albion’s profligacy in front of goal was punished with 10 minutes remaining when United added their second again against the run of play, this time Matic heading home an Ashley Young free kick to secure an undeserved win for United.

That means we can bust out the old adage about concentrating on the league but judging by this performance, we won’t need to worry about that too much. The Albion outplayed the side that will probably come second in the Premier League come the end of the season on their own patch. Play like that every week and we can give anyone a game.

Who says the magic of the FA Cup is dead?

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