Ronaldo opened the scoring shortly into the second half with a fine solo effort, before Bruno Fernandes sealed the three points in stoppage time.
But the Seagulls were on top for large periods and should really have equalised late on through Danny Welbeck, but the ex-Red Devil couldn’t hit the target.
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“First half was Mr Hyde, second half Dr Jekyll and for a change it [the result] was different,” the German explained, having also compared his side to the Robert Louis Stevenson characters ahead of kick-off.
“In the end it was important to get the three points against an in-form team. Brighton are very possession-based, full of confidence and we had to take more risks in the second half – it paid off.
“We scored the goal and got the red card for Lewis Dunk with a brilliant interception from Anthony Elanga. It should have been 3-0, 4-0 after 75 minutes but there is a bit of lack of assuredness in front of goal.
“We realised that they too often had possession of the ball and we could only intercept in few situations. Should we change to a formation to back three? We decided to stick to 4-2-3-1 with more risk and it paid off.
“In the first 10 minutes of the second half we had more successful moments and it raised the crowd, they were not moaning and were getting behind the team.
“I can understand if it feels to them like Brighton have 60% possession, that is not what they want to see.
“It was very important not only that he [Ronaldo] scored but it was an outstanding goal. It was important for all of us, but his overall performance was one of the best since I arrived here.
“And it was a brilliant save from Jakub Moder [from De Gea]. In the last 10-12 games, that has happened a few times and that is why we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world.”
Of his performance, De Gea said: “It is great always when you have the three points especially after we drew the last few games. We are all very happy.
“We knew that Brighton are one of the teams that play very well with the ball, press very good and for me they are a very good team. We started the second half better, we scored the goal, they went a man down but it’s a big three points and the performance was there.
“It [his wonder save] was great to be honest, a very difficult one. In that moment it was a big save because we kept a clean sheet. This is what we want in this moment, keep compact defensively.
“The message [at half-time] was that we are playing at home and we pressed high in the second half. We controlled the game after the red card and there was a five-minute spell when they came back.
“We should be fighting for more things than the top four, but that is the reality. There are many teams fighting for the same position and with the quality we have we should win a lot of points.”
For Brighton boss Graham Potter it was a case of poor finishing, an affliction that continues to hamper his team.
He said: “We are frustrated, we had large periods of the game but we did not start the second half well, gave the ball away and they punished us.
“The sending-off changes the dynamic of the game, I was frustrated with that. We had to survive with 10 men at Old Trafford. We hit the bar, Danny Welbeck had a chance but I’m proud of the players.
“In football if you don’t score and they do, you don’t deserve anything.”
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