MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) -Manchester United suffered a humbling 3-1 Premier League loss to Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday and have picked up three defeats in the first five matches of a league campaign for the first time since 1989-90.
Despite making a bright start at Old Trafford, United fell behind in the 20th minute when Danny Welbeck slotted home against his former club when left unmarked in the penalty area.
United responded well and thought they had levelled just before the break through big-money signing Rasmus Hojlund, on his full debut, but the ball was adjudged to be out of play when Marcus Rashford pulled the ball back to the Dane.
Brighton fully capitalised on that VAR reprieve, however, as fine goals from Pascal Gross early in the second half and a Joao Pedro strike brought groans of dismay all around Old Trafford.
Substitute Hannibal Mejbri did get one back for the hosts with 18 minutes left but Brighton held on with ease to move up to third in the standings on 12 points from five matches. United dropped to 12th on six points.
"We are disappointed, but it was really small margins," coach Erik ten Hag said. "We are so close against a good side. The first 20 minutes was all ours. We created chances but didn't score.
"It is difficult in this period. Luck has not fallen on our side, but we will fight back and if we stick together, play as a team, stick to the rules, we will return."
After another tumultuous week in Manchester, with Brazilian forward Antony delaying his return to the club to address assault allegations and England winger Jadon Sancho's fall-out with Ten Hag still playing out, United needed matters on the pitch to lift their supporters.
With Hojlund looking lively and Rashford taking the attack to the visitors they looked primed to get back to winning ways, but defensive frailties proved their undoing as Welbeck's fourth goal against his boyhood club put them on the back foot again.
Rashford continued to look the most likely to level in the opening period, striking the angle of post and crossbar following a trademark driving run.
Last season's top scorer went close just after the break, but clinical finishing from Gross took him to four goals against United at Old Trafford, with only Steven Gerrard and Mohamed Salah scoring more there as a visiting player.
There were boos all around Old Trafford as Hojlund was replaced by Anthony Martial, but it was a Brighton change that put the game to bed, with record signing Pedro arrowing a fizzing effort into the net.
Hannibal's first goal for the club did not threaten Brighton's superiority, with the visitors having further chances to extend their lead as they strolled to victory.
Brighton became only the third side to win four consecutive Premier League games against United, after Liverpool between 2000 and 2002, and Manchester City from 2013-14.
"I must admit I feel I know I'm very lucky to be the coach for this team," Brighton coach Roberto De Zerbi told Sky Sports. "It's like I dream because I am enjoying it a lot, enjoying to watch my team playing, showing their quality.
"It's an honour, I'm proud. Brighton is becoming, not a big, big club, but it is not a surprise. The quality of the players is very high."
(Reporting by Peter Hall, editing by Ed Osmond)