Paul Pogba celebrated the birth of his first child by scoring a penalty to help defeat Brighton 2-1 at Old Trafford on Saturday as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the first Manchester United manager to win his opening seven games in charge.
Pogba opened the scoring by winning and converting a spot-kick for his 10th United goal of the season – equalling his best club total in a single campaign.
The France midfielder followed the goal with a ‘cradle rocking’ celebration – an apparent reference to his partner reportedly giving birth to the couple’s first child.
Yet despite an impressive display by Pogba, who almost added a late third goal with a low shot from just outside the penalty area, it was Marcus Rashford’s moment of brilliance, three minutes before halftime, that drew the most attention.
The England forward received Diogo Dalot’s pass inside the penalty area and, from a tight angle on the left, used quick feet to turn outside Pascal Gross before steering a fine shot into the top corner.
It was a fitting way to mark the academy graduate’s 150th appearance for United, and a reminder of the club’s commitment to its youth policy as the club marked the 25th anniversary of Matt Busby’s death.
Busby, the manager who did arguably more than any other at United to lay down the tradition of bringing through home-grown young players, was commemorated this week by a mural outside Old Trafford that reads ‘Forever Grateful’, and there was a minute’s applause inside the ground before kickoff.
There followed a somewhat nervy victory to ensure a place in the record books for Solskjaer, whose winning streak now includes six successive league victories.
He had suggested that overcoming Brighton would be an even bigger challenge than beating Tottenham Hotspur six days earlier, as it would be tough to follow up an impressive win at Wembley against a resilient Brighton side.
Brighton’s flooding of midfield certainly made life difficult for United in the game’s opening quarter, before Pogba and Rashford put them 2-0 clear.
Both players are thriving under Solskjaer’s management, with Pogba in particular looking a much more dynamic player, with the freedom to attack, than he did under Jose Mourinho.
Following an outstanding first touch, Pogba cut in from the right to win a penalty when pushed over by Brighton left back Gaetan Bong.
To audible groans from home fans, Pogba stepped up for the penalty with the stuttering run-up he used in a 2-1 win over Everton in October, when his weak kick was saved by Jordan Pickford before he converted the rebound.
This time, though, he quickly abandoned that technique, striding up to the ball and striking his penalty into the corner of the net.
Rashford had almost given United the lead just before that, his shot from Ashley Young’s right-wing cutback headed away by Shane Duffy.
He did then score, but only after United had survived a major scare; Glenn Murray, Brighton’s leading scorer, got in behind Ander Herrera on to Solly March’s through-pass, but lashed wide from eight yards.
Rashford’s superb skill looked to have laid the foundations for a comfortable United win, and early in the second half, his cross was somehow steered wide by Jesse Lingard.
Anthony Martial then weaved past two Brighton players to hit a shot that dipped just over, but the Seagulls refused to buckle.
Gross gave them hope when he got in front of Dalot, starting after Luke Shaw was taken ill in the warm-up, to score against United for the second time this season. Whereas Gross’ penalty helped Brighton to a 3-2 win in August, this time it was only a consolation goal, despite a late flurry of pressure.AFP