MANCHESTER, England — In the chill of the Old Trafford night, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer watched anxiously in stoppage time.
There was a 2-1 lead for Manchester United to protect against Aston Villa and the chance to go level on points with Premier League leader Liverpool.
Matty Cash was first denied an equalizer by goalkeeper David de Gea’s save. Then, United defender Eric Bailly made a decisive block from Keinan Davis with the clock ticking down.
“There is a reason behind the colour of my hair,” Solskjaer said of his grey locks, “and that’s just that we like to do it the hard way at Man United.”
When the final whistle blew, it was little wonder, Bailly was so triumphant and embraced by Bruno Fernandes, who struck the winner from the penalty spot.
A league unbeaten run that’s been extended to 10 games — featuring eight wins — has the record 20-time English champions well-placed to mount a challenge for a first title since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Solskjaer isn’t getting ahead of himself, especially after seeing it so hard to protect this win after Anthony Martial’s first-half header was cancelled out by Bertrand Traoré before Fernandes converted the penalty won by Pogba.
“We’ve shown what we are capable of and we are improving at home as well,” said Solskjaer, who was feeling the heat when United was knocked out of the Champions League a month ago. “This result is massive for the confidence and for the attitude.”
The first manager to try — and fail — to build on Ferguson’s achievements at United was David Moyes, who was fired in 2014 after less than a season as the Scot’s successor.
But he started 2021 in fine form, seeing West Ham rise to 10th place with a 1-0 win over another former club: Everton. It’s so tight in the top half of the standings that West Ham is only three points behind third-place Leicester and Everton.
After four previous defeats as an opposition manager at Goodison Park since leaving for United in 2013, Moyes saw Tomas Soucek score a winner in the 88th minute. It was only West Ham’s second win in seven matches.
“Coming here tonight and winning was really important,” said Moyes, who is a year into his second stint in charge of West Ham. “Everton are in a great moment, have been playing well, getting great results and had a chance to go second, so you couldn’t under-estimate what it would mean to Everton.”
It could have meant going within a point of Liverpool, but a four-game winning streak ended instead for Carlo Ancelotti’s fourth-place side.
“Not a good performance, we didn’t deserve to win, we didn’t deserve to lose,” Ancelotti said. “They had a lucky deflection, we lost the game and are disappointed and frustrated.”
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Rob Harris, The Associated Press