It was for the uncomplicated things that Sir Matt Busby, to whom Old Trafford rose as one yesterday on the 25th anniversary of his death, was remembered.
Simple things like preserving a young George Best from stage fright by listing him as ‘reserve’ on the team sheet having decided to start him for the first time 56 years ago.
No-one is drawing comparison but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer continues to provide the same reminder that football can be simple, expressive and free of the mighty ego.
What was perhaps most striking as the Norwegian surpassed Busby’s five opening league wins and equalled Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola’s Premier League record of six was Solskjaer’s reluctance to hog the limelight.
It is rare in this era of superstar manager for the leader to be confined to the dug-out yet he seems satisfied that his mantra – ‘Play well, express your skills, feel alive’ – doesn’t need reinforcing from the touchline.
No player epitomises the joy Solskjaer has restored to the club more than Marcus Rashford. The 21-year-old’s goal, which ought to have removed the competitive element from the afternoon, was an object of beauty.
A lay-back for Diogo Dalot, a ten-second wait in space to take it back and three touches – right, left, right – before a fourth to propel it on an arc high past David Button, on the acute.
Busby would have been the first to say you don’t coach that stuff. Chris Hughton was unhappy with his defenders but Rashford’s speed defied that rationale.
It was Rashford’s 150th appearance for United – only Norman Whiteside, Ryan Giggs and Best reached it faster. The laws of probability had suggested Rashford would produce a signature moment, given the turf he covered and his efforts on goal.
Before the day was done he had sent in another curler which Jesse Lingard should have finished.
‘I can’t believe how Jesse didn’t score,’ Solskjaer said, displaying his capacity to address failings without bringing his players down.
Paul Pogba also looked a player re-incarnate during a first half which, with Brighton struggling to get a foothold, resembled shooting practice. His first touch on a 30-yard cross-field pass took the ball back past Gaetan Bong who prodded him with an elbow, earning a penalty from which he scored with his shuffle run.
When Ander Herrera was fouled by Dale Stephens midway through the first half he was too busy seeking possession to claim the foul. It was that kind of day.
The hope for the visitors lay in the same defensive vulnerability that beset Jose Mourinho’s unit, as David de Gea discovered last weekend.
Opportunity knocked in the first half for Glenn Murray, who fired wide of De Gea’s left post after Solomon March had laid a ball behind.
There is a vulnerability to the aerial ball which Hughton’s side exploited after United had missed several chances to put the game out of sight.
Jurgen Locadia located Davy Propper, whose smart cross from the left with his right outstep located Pascal Gross in space between Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof, from where he scored smartly.
‘If we were going to get something from the game I always felt it would be from delivery from wide areas,’ said Hughton, admitting the high ball had been the plan. ‘But they defended very well.’ Solskjaer felt that defending could improve. ‘We need to find our shape better. Towards the end we need to keep the ball away from them, let them run and try and get it.
‘The gaffer used to challenge us at times with: “Why can’t you win 10 games on the bounce?” As long as you take one game at a time and prepare well we should go into any game seeing it as winnable.
‘We have had some tough years but it’s a challenge for us to get to where we as a club should be.’
Mourinho said: ‘There are some players that when you squeeze them you get the best out of them. There are other personalities… the reaction is not the best.’
But the new manager renders those pronouncements utter nonsense.
The real test must wait until Liverpool arrive here, four weeks from now, but there was a reason why the players lingered on the pitch. The top four is in touching distance. An unmistakable spirit is back.Daily Mail