When you lose 4-0 at home you need a stiff drink or a sense of perspective, or both. With the former in hand let’s try the latter. First up, it wasn’t a debacle. Some may disagree, but we’ve played worse this season and will play worse and win games. Did we deserve to lose? Yes. Did the display amount to a gutless capitulation and justify calls for the manager to be sacked (the first I’ve heard against Parkinson)? No. It turned out bloody badly in the end. In my eyes, the first goal was very important (against a team that has conceded very few away so far) and the second was crucial. After that, the game was up, barring a miracle.
We were up against a team full of confidence and one with a clear instruction on how to play. We know what Poyet has done and what he demands, the question was could we match/better it. They’re not bloody Arsenal after all. They may try to play like them, but scratch the surface and the weaknesses are revealed. We did that a few times in the first 30 minutes, but this is a game – at every level – about margins and doing the basics well (as England recently demonstrated). We didn’t take chances that came our way and made mistakes at the back, which were punished. What does that say about us and them? Well, they look like they’re going places – although the season is long and who know about their squad resources - and the chances are we’re not. We’re still trying to work out how we play and they have it drilled into them. I won’t say good luck to them as I really don’t care. But today did drive home that the promised improvement as players get to know each other is still something we hope for.
The team was a little surprising in that Dailly was kept at right-back, with Francis on the bench, to continue with Fortune and Doherty in central defence, with Reid and Martin taking the wide berths. Benson and Abbott were paired up front. The first 20 minutes were about as good a game as we’re likely to watch this season. Brighton played it around, but not without purpose, while we were, if not matching them in their speed of movement and passing, showing that we had weapons to hurt them. But when it came to those details, the simple things, we often came up short. Crosses weren’t precise (Reid being the main culprit), control sometimes wasn’t good enough. Brighton could have taken the lead early on but were denied by a double save from Elliot, while good work from Martin ended with a delivery that Abbott headed over.
So much seemed to hinge on who would gain an advantage and unfortunately it was them. If their first goal was a training ground set-piece it’s one of the best I’ve seen. From a corner they played it in, out, and by the time they’d pulled us around towards the ball out and in again, to a guy by that time unmarked to score. If they meant it, full marks to them. After that, the margins went against us, thanks in no small part to the referee. Brighton might like to play it around, but they were happy to make cynical challenges when we looked like breaking through. Three or four were made and passed with the ref only talking to them. Not good enough. They were deliberate, stopped us in our tracks, and merited cards (in the end the ref finally gave one for such a challenge, against us, with only one yellow all afternoon).
At the break clearly we were still in it. But we needed the next strike to be in our favour. Instead a mistake by Doherty conceded possession in a very poor position and they danced the ball into the net. That saw heads drop and changes made. Dailly may have had a storming game at full-back against Plymouth, but you just felt for him today when in a classic position he pushed the ball past their guy and had to try to run past him. No chance and no contest. Fortune was withdrawn, with Francis coming on and Dailly moving to the centre, while the disappointing Abbott was replaced by Anyinsah. Not long after Reid was crocked and left, replaced by Wagstaff.
Not having to chase the game, Brighton were happy to play it around and we needed some inspiration to get back into it. It didn’t come. Instead they brought on LuaLua to torment us – and con the ref. He clearly lost control of the ball, which went some yards away from him, and made a meal of being ‘checked’ to win a free kick. Margins again. But the free kick was set up for him to score and put the game to bed. There was just time for him to embarrass Francis and deliver a cross for a fourth.
The final whistle was greeted with boos and calls for Parkinson’s head. I don’t think I’m deluding myself in concluding we were beaten by a better side but that the breaks didn’t go our way at crucial times. I don’t feel like calling for the manager to be sacked, or that today was a disgrace. It showed how far we still have to go and might help to frame expectations for the season, but that’s it. That said, it’s one win in six, against moderate opposition. The next couple of games the pressure is on – you can’t lose by four at home and think it isn’t. Another couple of poor results and the season would turn really sour. I think I’ll naff off to Lyon and hope for more perspective tomorrow.
I’ve rambled on recently about just not knowing what to expect from this season, especially after the two wins at the start raised expectations. I noticed that recently we were still about fifth favourite to get promotion, suggesting that others expect us to improve. Today showed us that against a team enjoying life and confident in how they intend to play we are still a work in progress. Doherty and others talked in terms of needing to improve and generate momentum from around November. I’m ready for that.
Elliot: 7/10. Excellent double save to keep the game scoreless and had no chance with any of the goals.
Dailly: 6/10. Poor sod. A cameo at full-back when needs must is fair enough, but it was a mistake to ask him to do it again. Keep him where he belongs.
Jackson: 6/10. Their first ended up being scored in his area, but no obvious problems, no great forward contribution either.
Fortune: 6/10. Nothing daft, but we conceded four. Our problem (to me) is that we have three adequate ‘big’ guys for the centre (Fortune, Doherty, Llera) and only one (Dailly) to play the Bobby Moore role.
Doherty: 5/10. Bad mistake (I think) which led to their second goal, which killed the game. He’s been fine to date, but this one was a big one.
Reid: 6/10. Fans’ favourite, but today his crossing when in good positions was poor. Tried to make things happen, just hope the injury isn’t bad.
Semedo: 6/10. Competitive as ever, but their play meant he was unable to command and we seldom controlled the game.
Racon: 5/10. Didn’t work for him today, at least not going forward. We need and expect more out of him if we are to dominate play.
Martin: 6/10. Good work early on, but seldom featured to good effect in the second half.
Abbott: 5/10. When the delivery from the flanks isn’t good his limitations seem apparent. Didn’t cause them any problems except for the header.
Benson: 5/10. His job is to score goals, which he has done of late. Whether he and Abbott together are the best possible pairing we’ll have to see against lesser opposition.
Subs: Francis (6/10 – taken apart for their fourth goal, but by then who cared?); Anyinsah (5/10 – no discernible impact, but the game was already up when he came on); Wagstaff (5/10 – ditto).