Hughton left frustrated as United ‘big lads’ foil his plan

‘Hughton had almost pulled off a classic Mourinho-style away performance’ Photo: PA

When Manchester United fans recall their highlights at the end of this season, it is unlikely this match will feature high in the roll call of incident.

Indeed, after a scrappy, bitty, unedifying afternoon, and a victory earned thanks to a mighty slice of luck, most would struggle to remember much about the game even as they made their way home from Old Trafford. For them, all it delivered of note was three points to help Jose Mourinho’s side maintain their pursuit of their neighbours at the top of the league.

“It is the sign of a good team to play poorly and yet still win,” said Ashley Young, whose long-range shot took a critical deflection off Brighton’s unfortunate Lewis Dunk for United’s winner.

“Last season we could have come away with a draw from this sort of game. And that is what is vitally important – to keep picking up points, especially going into this Christmas period, the busiest period of the season. The games are coming thick and fast and you want to pick up points whether you are at home or away.”

Winning when playing badly is a useful trick to have. But it is only fair to acknowledge why it was that United were so subdued and ineffective.

At the final whistle, Mourinho embraced counterpart Chris Hughton with a warmth that demonstrated significant respect because Hughton had almost pulled off a classic Mourinho-style away performance.

The Brighton manager had worked out precisely how to frustrate United. His centre-backs, Dunk and Shane Duffy, smothered United’s attacking instincts; Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert out-sparkled the home midfield; for the overwhelming majority of the game his team prevented United from doing anything of note.

Ultimately Hughton reflected he was beaten only because of the scale of this United side. In the end they were just too tall to keep out.
Finally they managed to deliver something following a hugely contested set-piece, a corner that he believed should never have been awarded, although examination of the television footage suggested the linesman had got it spot on and the ball did touch Gross’ foot after Romelu Lukaku’s sliding tackle.

“When you know that (Marouane) Fellaini can come on, (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic, any corner that they get at that stage they have got seven big ones in (the penalty area),” said Hughton.

It was not the most flattering of observations, noting that the club that once boasted the creative skills of George Best, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes is now tactically dependent on the big lads.

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