This was a tough game to watch, no doubt it was a hundred times more difficult to play in. Scrappy, tight, it was pretty awful for the most part, enlivened only by a luxurious goal by Patrick Bamford in the 76th minute and by the knowledge that we’d knotched up a win against a top six side for once.
Brighton were pretty good in possession but defended in numbers and were rather negative. They had ten men behind the ball for most of the game, leaving giant striker, Ulloa, on his own up front. We certainly found it difficult to break them down, with Wardy having our only chance of the first half, shooting wide after a driving run through the middle.
Wardy was a bit of a talking point before the game, most people (including yours truly) were predicting that he would be dropped (Bamford or Bennett being the popular suggested replacements). He had a pretty good game actually and had a significant hand in Bamford’s goal. He’s clearly been taken off set piece duties though, with Hughes, Bryson and Bamford all having a go at some stage (none of them to any good effect).
At least we had our holding midfielder back. We needed his experience. Eustace had a good game, breaking up stuff, knocking the ball around reasonably well in front of the defence and, of course, picking up a booking. That’ll do me. Despite Eustace’s return, the midfield seemed particularly stretched, with Bryson and Hughes doing a lot of chasing shadows but nothing particularly creative. Hughes, in particular, was struggling and was subbed. Does he need resting? Have opposition players found him out? Or have we got too high expectations of him? Probably a combination of all three. Perhaps Hendrick should replace him for the next game (unless he’s forging a new career as a right back..). A bit of squad rotation in midfield won’t do any harm.
It was great to see Keogh back as well, he was without doubt our man of the match. He was a rock at the back, knocked the ball around splendidly and was actually our most creative influence in the first half with a couple of driving runs forward. We’ve missed his experience and commitment in the last few games.
Who else stood out? Grant was solid and made an exceptional save to tip over a crashing header from Upson. Another good save from Ulloa secured the victory for us. Wisdom also had a good game, intelligent in possession, although like most of the side a tad hesitant going forward. I hope his injury isn’t too bad or we’ll be recalling Freeman from his loan at Notts County.
Martin had one of those games where you sort of forget what a great player he is. He didn’t have the best of service from his colleagues but looked ponderous at times. I wonder if Bamford is an option at some stage in that role. Certainly appears to have enough skill on the ball.
McClaren made some good, brave substitutions again. Hendrick looked enthusiastic and mobile in a more advanced role, when he came on for Hughes. He also looked ok when he dropped back to replace the injured Wisdom at right back. We were playing 4-2-4 at the end, after Sammon came on. He also did his bit, harrying the Brighton defenders and chasing around like a madman. But can you imagine Clough making a decision like that? He would have probably stuck a defender on and gone for a draw.
Anyway, that’s the run of three defeats put to bed. Time to put some results together and consolidate this play off spot.