Nowadays, not even the final whistle is always the final whistle. When referee Chris Kavanagh initially blew up, Solly March's late headed equaliser appeared to have earned Brighton and Hove Albion a point against Manchester United - the very least they deserved for an impressive all-round performance. Yet this extraordinary game would come with a postscript.
On the advice of VAR, play was restarted after Kavanagh consulted the pitchside monitor and found that Neal Maupay had handled inside his own penalty area on the very final play. The Brighton striker could barely look as Bruno Fernandes converted the spot-kick, the second final whistle immediately sounded out and United somehow took all three points.
Even before the dramatic final stages, this was the definition of daylight robbery from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. A piece of individual brilliance from Marcus Rashford had seemed as though it would be enough to rescue an unremarkable United performance and secure a fortuitous win, only for March’s late intervention to give the scoreline a fairer reflection of the balance of play. Briefly, that is.
Brighton deserved at least a point and appeared as though they could take all three when Maupay’s majestic penalty put them ahead towards the end of the first half. United would quickly equalise through a Lewis Dunk own goal, but even once Rashford completed the turnaround with a magnificent solo goal, the hosts were still the better side in almost every department.
Graham Potter and his players will bemoan their bad luck and not just for the late penalty award. Brighton struck the woodwork five times in total. Leandro Trossard completed the set - hitting both posts and the crossbar - while March and Adam Webster were also denied by the frame of the goal. And when it’s not your day, it’s really not your day. Perhaps the remarkable late penalty should come as no surprise, as everything simply went against Brighton.
United were fortunate to say the least, and lucky to go into the break level after a one-paced first half display. This was not the same old story of Solskjaer’s side dominating possession but struggling to break down an organised defence, as against Palace. Brighton’s drilled and disciplined back five still had the measure of United but their front five was also dominant, exploiting space and running in behind.
Trossard had hit both posts within the opening 21 minutes and when Webster forced David de Gea to tip a goal-bound onto the crossbar, a Brighton goal felt imminent. By contrast, United’s moments of attacking menace were few and far between. Mason Greenwood momentarily thought he had found a breakthrough at the end of one - perhaps the only - free-flowing attacking move but Rashford had strayed marginally offside.
There was little surprise when Brighton eventually took the lead through Maupay’s penalty. It was conceded by Bruno Fernandes, who brought down Tariq Lamptey as the troublesome Brighton wing-back stepped across him, and meant United had given away spot-kicks in two consecutive league games for the first time in 11 years. It spoke to the confidence flowing through Brighton at that point that Maupay converted with a wonderful Panenka.
Their lead would last just four minutes. United did not deserve to equalise but drew level through a pacey Fernandes free-kick which Nemanja Matic brilliantly turned back across the face of goal. Harry Maguire claimed to have tapped in, converting from inside the six-yard box, but the final touch appeared to come off the boot of Dunk. Whether an own goal or not, United had their reprieve.
Another would follow at the start of the second half when Paul Pogba bundled through the back of Aaron Connolly inside the box. Referee Kavanagh initially pointed to the spot but was persuaded to take a closer look via the pitchside monitor and overturned his decision. VAR came into play yet again a few minutes later, disallowing another United goal for another Rashford offside.
Yet if Rashford’s timing had looked off for most of the afternoon, it was impeccable for United’s second goal. Fernandes’ brilliant through ball from deep set Rashford in behind but it was Rashford’s own magnificent footwork which discombobulated poor Ben White, who fell to the ground twice while attempting to block shots that never came. Once Rashford felt he had toyed with White enough, he lifted the ball into the far, top right-hand corner.
If only Brighton could have been so clinical. March had already gone close once, seeing a low, drilled shot bounce off the base of the far post and come back across goal, but made sure when arriving late at the far post in the fourth minute of added-on time, heading past a stranded De Gea. Justice appeared to have been done, only for Maguire’s last gasp header to brush off Maupay’s arm. There can be no complaints about the decision - the handball law being how it is. Yet once the astonishing turn of events has sunk in, one would not blame Brighton for feeling aggrieved.