Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez were on the score-sheet as Manchester United scrapped their way to a 2-0 victory against Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on Saturday.
After a tough-tackling first half, Lukaku sent United on their way in the 55th minute, before Sanchez scored his maiden United goal on his home debut to finish off the determined visitors.
It was a forgettable contest, dominated more by concerns about the performance of referee Stuart Attwell than any moments of true class, but Lukaku’s opener gave them some breathing space before Sanchez put the icing on the cake with 22 minutes left.
United were missing Marouane Fellaini, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but were buoyed by Manchester City’s 1-1 draw with Burnley in the early Saturday kickoff.
As United looked to close the 16-point gap on City, out-of-form Huddersfield were the perfect side to face.
David Wagner’s side went into the contest on the back of four straight Premier League losses, with their impressive start to the season, including a 2-1 win over United on home soil, long forgotten.
Ahead of kickoff, an impeccably observed minute’s silence was held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.
United made the most of the early running and although Huddersfield began the contest with the second-worst defence in the top-flight, they held firm as Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard probed down the right wing.
Lingard had the game’s first real chance after eight minutes after Sanchez did well to put him through on goal, but his tame left-foot shot was comfortably saved by Jonas Lossl.
The game picked up an extra edge after 19 minutes when United youngster Scott McTominay was clattered in an aerial challenge by Terence Kongolo inside the Huddersfield box.
McTominay carried on, but Huddersfield were lucky that Attwell deemed the challenge to be fair when many other officials would have given a penalty.
That soured the atmosphere, and the game became increasingly bad-tempered as both sides looked for a decisive opening.
Sanchez showed fine skills to dribble clear of trouble and fire a shot at Lossl after 26 minutes, and then went down weakly in the box 60 seconds later in search of a penalty that was rightly waved away.
Shortly afterwards, Kongolo kicked the ball into touch, thinking Sanchez was injured after another foray forward, but United played on from the throw-in rather than giving the ball back to the Terriers.
After the interval, United seemed certain to take the lead when Sanchez found himself unmarked six yards out, but a stunning covering last-ditch block by Huddersfield captain Tommy Smith kept the score at 0-0.
However, Huddersfield’s resistance finally crumbled when Mata delivered an inch-perfect cross for Lukaku, who volleyed home from five yards out on his favoured left foot.
The game became more pedestrian and a Huddersfield comeback appeared remote, something confirmed when Michael Hefele fouled Sanchez in the box midway through the second period.
Sanchez dusted himself down and although his spot-kick was saved, he bundled home the rebound to grab United’s second and ensure Huddersfield would fall into the relegation zone for the first time this season.