Manchester City 2 – 1 Brighton. Manchester City avoided a third consecutive Premier League defeat as two first-half goals secured victory over Brighton at Etihad Stadium.
Pep Guardiola’s side had lost their previous two top-flight matches – away to Wolves and Arsenal – and have never recorded three consecutive league defeats under the Spaniard.
The defending champions showed their intent early on as Julian Alvarez opened the scoring after just seven minutes, floating an effort over the head of Brighton keeper Jason Steele after a delightful run and cut-back from Jeremy Doku.
Erling Halaand ended a run of three matches without a goal 10 minutes later as he pounced on a Carlos Baleba mistake in the middle of the park and sent a thunderous left-footed shot into the back of the net.
A more composed second half from the visitors saw Ansu Fati capitalise on a poor Manuel Akanji clearance inside the penalty area.
The goal made for a nervy final period as City clung on and Brighton pushed for an equaliser with City forced to see out stoppage time with 10 men when Akanji was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Doku was a constant threat throughout down the left-hand side, setting up Alvarez for the opener and twice going close with long-range curling efforts.
Argentine forward Alvarez had the opportunity for a second with a curling free-kick and Phil Foden was unlucky not to see his effort nestle in the top corner.
The victory moves City top of the Premier League before Arsenal face Chelsea later on Saturday.
Three matches can hardly be referred to as a goal drought but, having scored 52 goals in 53 games across all competitions last season, even just one match without Haaland scoring comes as a surprise.
In the previous two league games the Norwegian had attempted just one shot, an uncharacteristic run of form for the prolific goal scorer, who smashed the record for most top-flight goals scored in a single season last year with 36.
And as Haaland ran to celebrate with his team-mates and fans after hammering his shot home to break the dry run, his expression was one of ecstasy, then relief.
Haaland was supported by the impressive Doku and Foden down the flanks and the former had the home crowd on their feet each time he went on a darting run down the wing.
Alvarez has also stepped up in the absence of Haaland’s goals, netting four times in eight matches after many had questioned whether the two could play in the same team.
With Rodri and John Stones back in the side, the former back after serving a three-match suspension and the latter returning from injury, City are almost at full strength with just Kevin de Bruyne still sidelined.
For large parts, it looked to be back to business as usual for City but Brighton’s goal and Akanji’s late red card, which means he will miss next week’s Manchester derby, turned a straightforward win into an edgy final few minutes.
Brighton have conceded more goals than any team outside the relegation zone this season with 18, including nine first-half goals.
Manager Roberto de Zerbi will feel disappointed by the manner in which his side conceded the first goal as Alvarez was left completely unmarked on the edge of the area.
The visitors struggled in the first half as Doku had the better of James Milner, returning from a muscle injury against his former club, with the 37-year-old substituted at half-time after a torrid 45 minutes.
Two goals inside the first 20 minutes felt reminiscent of Aston Villa’s 6-1 thrashing of the Seagulls earlier this season, but a more controlled second half saw Brighton look threatening.
They thought they had pulled one back when Fati found Kaoru Mitoma in space but the Japanese winger’s effort was well saved by Stefan Ortega, in goal for the rested Ederson.
Lewis Dunk and Steele had done well to prevent a floated Alvarez effort from going in before Brighton rushed up to the other end and Fati pulled one back.
The visitors had opportunities to equalise but an unfortunate injury to Solly March in the closing minutes saw him taken off on a stretcher and any momentum was lost.
While conceding goals is clearly a problem for Brighton, they also have the second-highest goal tally in the league – behind Newcastle – which undoubtedly makes for entertaining matches.
But De Zerbi will have to find a way to stem the flow of goals at the other end if he wants to go even better than last season’s record-breaking sixth-place finish.