This was a great reaction to that defeat against against Dirty last week. Three points, a clean sheet, some devastating finishing & a quite brilliant return to form for Chris Martin. But something quite bizarre happened in that first half, when we let Brighton back into the game. We lost our focus &, as a result, lost control of the game for a time. Let’s not hide away from that. And against a better team, we might have been punished. Ok, enough of the negative thoughts for now..
Three changes to the side who lost to Dirty. Bucko was in for the injured Keogh, Bryson & Dawks in for Hughes & Ibe respectively. Much as predicted really, although I thought Wardy would have been a likely starter, given McClaren had been bigging up his return to fitness all week.
Despite Brighton’s poor form going into this match (only one win out of their last 15, with Sami Hyypia’s job apparently under threat), I was apprehensive – had Brighton been studying the videos of our recent defeats to Leeds, Brentford & Wigan to work out how to beat us?
It would appear not.
We hardly allowed Brighton a kick in the first 20 mins. Martin & Bryso had a couple of chances in the first ten minutes & then the goals started flying in (not something we’re that familiar with in the first half at the iPro).
Firstly, Martin drilled in a low shot from just inside the area. Not the most powerful of shots & Stockdale probably should have done better but we (& Martin) were on our way. Next was a nice little dinked goal from Super Johnny after a lovely pass from Fozzy. Then came a quite surreal disallowed goal from Brighton’s on loan Darren Bent. I’m not sure how it was deemed to be offside but we all breathed a sigh of relief when it was disallowed. The third goal, a great headed effort from Martin after a superlative cross from Christie was the pick of our goals & came after only 20 mins. That’s probably the only decent cross Christie has clipped in all season though.
Three nil up after only 20 mins & we were all in dreamland – how many were we going to score? I was thinking 8 or 9. I don’t think it was unrealistic or arrogant to think that way. Brighton were abysmal, an absolute bunch of lightweights. However, what happened next was bizarre. We took the foot off the gas & lost control of the game. Hyppia made his only competent decision all day & replaced the diminutive Teixeira with Rohan Ince. He made a real difference & found acres of space in midfield.
A strange lull settled over the stadium too. It was almost as if the crowd & the team were a bit confused by what had happened & didn’t know how to handle it.
We managed to see it out until half time but it was a close run thing, Brighton were getting a lot of time on the ball & we looked nervous & error prone. One particularly risky challenge from Christie on the edge of the area prompted sharp intakes of breath around the Guthrie.
We were all left scratching our heads at half time. What a way to feel when we were three nil up.. McClaren had already been down on the touchline before the half time whistle, a sure sign that we were having problems.
Thankfully, the second half was much better, we had a lot more control. Martin, Bryson, Hendrick & Ibe all had chances to score. We probably merited a couple more goals to be honest but it wasn’t to be. I can’t recall Brighton having a decent chance at all.
A few fans on Twitter after the game seem quite relaxed after that performance, suggesting that we had somehow sat back & conserved some energy for the crucial game against Boro next week. I think that was a tad complacent. If we’d eased off & still controlled the game in that first half I would have been happy but we were all over the place. Here’s what McClaren himself had to say, “We backed off too much, gave them the possession of the ball… “ I thought we lost control of the game..” There you go.
We certainly missed Keogh. Bucko, Shotton & both full backs all looked hesitant in defence throughout & although Christie & Fozzy both got assists, the distribution out from the back was poor. Like my fellow podcaster, Mr Joyce, has been saying for weeks, Keogh’s been carrying that defence all season. Time for the clichéd “commanding centre half” in January maybe?
It was great to see Martin back on form & he was simply brilliant, making use of the space provided by the powder puff Brighton midfield & defence. It was also great to see Bryson back to near his best (a goal would have crowned an excellent performance). We need to see that consistently now. And I’ll promise to stop moaning about him..
One more thing. Jeff’s hair. What is all that about? He looks like Mike Nolan from Buck’s Fizz at the moment. I honestly had trouble recognising him at times.
Anyway. Onwards & upwards. Perhaps our biggest game of the season, against Boro, next Saturday. Settle for a point? No way, let’s nick a win. Now that really would be sending out a statement to the rest of this division.