Jose's rotated Reds suffered another inglorious dip in this bizarre Jekyll and Hyde season as a Pascal Gross header ensured Chris Hughton's Brighton rubber - stamped their Premier League survival. Gross met Jose Izquierdo's back post cross on 57 minutes and despite Marcos Rojo's futile attempts to clear, the ball crept beyond David de Gea's whitewash by the tiniest of fractions - a mere 28.3mm. On such fine margins are ties won and seasons decided.
With the cup final on the horizon, this was very much a second - string United side for the trip to the south coast, but the fringe players failed to grasp their opportunity and made it an unwanted hat-trick of defeats, with the team now having lost away to all three promoted sides. Offset against impressive wins over all of the league's heavyweights, this has been a strange season in which logic has been tossed aside, although following results elsewhere over the weekend, a solitary point is all that's required for a second placed finish with two matches to play.
Marouane Fellaini touched in Marcus Rashford's second minute free-kick, only to correctly be adjudged offside, and Dale Stephens went close with an early sighter at the other end. Izquierdo had a daisycutter gathered before DDG was truly tested for the first time on 32 minutes. The ball sat up nicely for Brighton's top scorer Glenn Murray 25 yards out, he thumped it goalwards but De Gea - at full stretch - somehow tipped it past the post. De Gea saved well again from the mercurial Izquierdo, and the resultant corner narrowly evaded the onrushing Murray from a Duffy flick on.
Missing the injured Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, Rashford was left
to plough a lone furrow up top and got little joy out of Brighton's
miserly centre back pairing of Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. When he did manage to get the better of the former and burst into the box, the zip and assurance of Rashford's best work was betrayed by a failure to find the onrushing Anthony Martial, he was crowded out by a posse of players and the chance had gone.
Anthony Knockaert has endured a difficult Premier League season having been the best player in the Championship last term, but he came to the party here, causing United's hapless defensive duo Rojo and Matteo Darmian no end of problems. He flashed a shot wide and had another sighter cleared, before Dunk bravely blocked a Paul Pogba piledriver from distance in unorthodox fashion with his face shortly before the break.
When Brighton's best chance arrived three minutes shy of the hour mark, they took it. Darmian's misjudgement allowed Izquierdo to surge beyond him and whip the ball in. His lofted cross was met by Gross, who crashed the header goalwards. Rojo looked to have cleared, but Craig Pawson's wristwatch was buzzing, the AMEX erupted, a city did too and - ragged and reeling - United were on the ropes. On the intervention of the Goal Decision System, Brighton's safety was sealed.
United were understrength and Jose sent on Luke Shaw along with former Brighton loanee Jesse Lingard in response. United probed and pressed without ever really penetrating. Mat Ryan cleared well under pressure from Chris Smalling, and Lingard lashed wastefully wide with four minutes left having linked superbly with Rashford in a rare moment of quality.
Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea.