It was a year ago that United lost 4-0 to Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex stadium in one of their most abject performances of modern times.
This was during the dark days of Ralf Rangnick’s ill-fated reign as interim manager when it appeared as though the players had given up and no longer cared.
The United fans at Brighton that day sensed this and chanted, “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” at these players, the first time anyone could remember hearing that.
Rangnick lasted one more game, another dreadful defeat to Crystal Palace, before shuffling away with the worst record of any United manager in the last 50 years.
Since then United have staged a largely impressive revival under the stewardship of their new manager Erik ten Hag, winning the Carabao Cup, their first trophy for six years, reaching next month’s FA Cup final and being on course for a place in the Premier League’s top four.
However, on their return to Brighton on Thursday night they fell to a 1-0 defeat to Roberto De Zerbi’s side with a penalty scored in the ninth minute of added time.
It was an agonising and frustrating defeat, which felt a little unjust, for United had been impressive in the first half, attacking with some slick passing and movement.
They retreated in the second half, but managed to keep a tenacious Brighton at bay until Luke Shaw inexplicably handled the ball in the penalty area.
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The defeat might not have featured the complete lack of spirit witnessed a year earlier, but the result was the same, to give Brighton their first ever league double over United, after they also won at Old Trafford back in August.
United had been undone by two familiar weaknesses: an inability to win away from home against sides in the top nine of the Premier League. They now have a miserable record of seven defeats and one draw from eight games this season.
But last night’s defeat came courtesy of another attacking failure, and their continued lack of a serious goal threat, which has dogged them all season.
United have so far scored a pitiful total of 49 league goals this season, which puts them firmly in the shadow of the other sides in the top four, Manchester City (87), Arsenal (81) and Newcastle (61), as well as the two teams trying to take their place, Brighton (62) and Liverpool (66).
Even Leicester City in sixteenth place, currently battling against relegation have scored only three less goals in the Premier League than United this season.
On Thursday night, particularly in the first half United carved Brighton open and created several very good chances only to waste all of them.
As early as the second minute Bruno Fernandes played Antony in on goal but he pulled his shot wide of the right post. Eight minutes later Antony repaid the favour, setting Fernandes up on the edge of the penalty area, only for the Portuguese international to blast a wild shot high over the crossbar.
On 28 minutes the busy Fernandes found Marcus Rashford with a pass, who dropped a shoulder to beat Moises Caicedo, but his tame effort to score inside the near post was saved by the Brighton keeper Jason Steele, when the striker might have been better served shooting across the goal.
Six minutes before half-time Antony Martial combined with Fred to again open up the Brighton defence, but he blasted his shot straight at the advancing Steele.
United should have taken the lead with one of these chances, but by spurning them Ten Hag’s side remained vulnerable.
Martial was substituted for Weghorst in the second half, but the Dutchman gave another unconvincing display, and has now gone 13 Premier League appearances without scoring, and only managed two in 26 appearances in all competitions.
He has become a figure of fun, and even the United fans at Brighton chanted, “If Weghorst scores, we’re on the pitch,” suggesting they believed it was unlikely. They were right.
United’s most impressive player at Brighton, Luke Shaw voiced his frustration at United not taking their chances. “The problem is we don’t score,” he said after the game. “In the first half, we have three or four chances that we should be scoring.”
“On the other side, it comes down to my mistake at the end, but I think with the chances that we had we should be scoring these goals and the game is completely different if we score early on with the chances that we make.”
“We have to kick ourselves. We were comfortable but now you can say it is a real chase, teams around us picking up points. But it is still in our hands.”