Though, as always, context supplies a caveat: this was a win that took his side into seventh place in the Premier League, still 10 points off Chelsea in third. The truth is a title challenge – even a break for the top four – remains the fondest of hopes.
Still, a win is a win, and a smart win full of endeavour is even better. And defeats by Crystal Palace, West Ham, Newcastle and Bournemouth already this season had changed the complexion of the opposition: no longer could this game be regarded as the kind of walkover it might have been in the glorious past.
It was a mark of the team’s faltering form that, on only their ninth meeting since the 1983 FA Cup final, this was the first time Brighton had gone into a game against United sitting above them in the table.
From the start, however, it was clear that, whatever stuttering United have been prone to, the Stretford End retains faith in the manager.
Those in the stand spent most of the game running through their repertoire of Solskjaer songs.
He responded by showing he is wholly sympathetic to the traditions of their club, by selecting the youngest starting XI of any in the Premier League this season. David De Gea was the oldest player; and he has just had his 29th birthday. This is the future, the manager believes.
And his youthful team started with zestful determination. Marcus Rashford and Daniel James were a constant fleet-heeled threat, while Brandon Williams, the youngest of the starting players at 19, looked as if he will be playing at left-back for years. He possesses a hint of the sly – as he demonstrated by being booked for going in studs high on Steven Alzate’s chest – but he looks a real prospect: quick, intelligent, full of attacking intent.
For once in this goal-shy season, there was reward for effort on the scoreboard. After Rashford and James had forced Mat Ryan into saves, Andreas Pereira picked up Anthony Martial’s astute lay-off and made his way into the Brighton area. The ball was clipped off his feet but fortuitously fell to Martial, who cut it back to him.
His left-foot shot took a deflection off Dale Stephens and looped into the goal.
Barely five minutes had elapsed before James was sent flying down the right again, this time halted by Lewis Dunk’s agricultural challenge. Fred took the free-kick, which – a rarity this from a United set-piece this season – found Harry Maguire’s head.
It was not a clean connection, but, as Ryan squatted down to pick up the ball, Scott McTominay piled in to stab it past him into the goal.
More than two minutes of VAR stoppage followed, as a check was conducted to assess whether Maguire had helped the ball goalwards with his arm. Finally it was decided it was a fair strike, though it was recorded as a Davy Propper own goal.
Solskjaer might have been right that it was as good as United had played in the league, yet the feeling was always there that they were but one mistake from letting Brighton back into it. And the visitors, despite their seeming lack of ambition, had chances: Shane Duffy kneed the ball wide, while Aaron Connolly headed a free-kick over when completely unmarked.
Thus no one could have been surprised when Dunk leapt above Maguire to head home from substitute Pascal Gross’s inswinging kick midway through the second half.
What will have pleased the United fans most, however, is that the Brighton revival did not last long. For once this season, perhaps suggesting some steel is being forged in their psychology, United did not falter as their opponents retaliated.
Instead, moments after the Brighton goal, Fred, who had his best game in a United shirt (admittedly not the highest of compliments), set Martial scooting in behind the defence.
He tried to round Ryan, but after seemingly taking the ball too far wide, laid it back to Rashford, who hammered his fifth goal in as many games into the top of the Brighton net.
To show that inconsistency is still a significant part of the side’s make-up, however, Rashford then missed the most open of goals, having been perfectly set up by the charging James.
By then, though, the points were secure. And for once Solskjaer could cheerfully insist brighter times lie ahead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)