MANCHESTER, February 16: Cristiano Ronaldo ended his goalscoring drought on Tuesday as Manchester United recovered from an insipid first-half display to beat 10-man Brighton 2-0 and clamber back into the Premier League top four.
The match dramatically changed complexion early in the second half, with Ronaldo scoring his first goal in 2022 before Lewis Dunk was sent off three minutes later.
But the home side wasted chances to double their lead until Bruno Fernandes sealed the points deep into stoppage time.
Ralf Rangnick’s team had acquired the damaging habit of squandering leads, dropping vital points against lowly Burnley and Southampton and also exiting the FA Cup.
United have struggled to find consistency and fluency under their German interim manager and again failed to impose themselves against Brighton in a flat atmosphere at Old Trafford.
Anthony Elanga and Fred came into the starting line-up for Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford, with Raphael Varane also missing out due to illness.
Jadon Sancho was denied early on, but the hosts created precious little as Brighton controlled the game, enjoying nearly 60 percent of possession in the first half.
David de Gea was forced into a spectacular save to keep out a Jakub Moder header.
The half-time whistle drew boos from a frustrated home crowd, with United fortunate to be level at 0-0.
United took the lead in the 51st minute when Scott McTominay tackled Yves Bissouma and the ball broke to Ronaldo, who darted forwards, cutting past Adam Webster and firing beyond goalkeeper Robert Sanchez from the edge of the box.
Things got even better for United soon after as Elanga’s pace caught out Dunk, who brought down the teenager 25 yards out.
Referee Peter Bankes showed a yellow card to the Brighton captain, only to change it to red after reviewing the foul on the advice of the video assistant referee.
United, who had lost first-half leads in three consecutive matches in all competitions, were now on top but they failed to force home their advantage.
They almost paid for their profligacy when Moder beat De Gea but saw his shot cannon back off the crossbar in the 78th minute.
Former United player Danny Welbeck flashed a late header just high as the home side breathed a sigh of relief.
United had a nervy finish to the game but wrapped up the victory in the 97th minute.
Substitute Pogba took a quick free-kick and Fernandes collected the ball inside his own half and raced forward before firing home.
The three points lift United into the fourth Champions League qualification spot, two points ahead of West Ham and four behind third-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand.
Arsenal, Wolves and Tottenham are also within striking distance of the top four and all have games in hand. (AFP)