So, no glorious victory to celebrate the anniversary; instead a hard-earned point against a decent side (albeit one that mixed some of the dark arts with passing football). On the balance of chances Brighton will feel they should have won; that they didn’t was down to poor finishing, at least two superb saves by Hamer, and one last-ditch deflection of a goal-bound shot. The annoying thing was that despite their possession and chances the two they did score were the result of a mistake and a deflection (ours were, of course, sublime). Add to that we were robbed at the death. Final minute of stoppage time and the ball’s deflected for a corner. Flashed through my mind that Cort would come on and that, given their uncertainty from set pieces, one of he, Hulse, Kermorgant, Morrison or Devite would nod in the winner to spark delirium. The ref gave a goal kick. Ah well, I’ll dream about it tonight.
Sir Chris opted to make a few changes, with some welcome selection problems to work out. Seaborne didn’t make the team (or the bench) with Wilson returning at right-back and Solly switching sides; with Morrison available again, Cort was the one to give way rather than Dervite (perhaps the thinking was that Brighton wouldn’t be playing the ball in the air); Stephens and Frimpong were the central midfielders, with Jackson and Haynes out wide, Pritchard in the hole (although he and Haynes seemed to alternate) and Hulse effectively the lone striker, with Kermorgant dropping to the bench.
We could have been behind in the first couple of minutes as their guy, who may have moved offside (it looked a close call) scooped it over the bar at the far post, while Hamer was to pull off the first of his splendid saves, making himself big to block a one-on-one, possibly with his face. Brighton as expected were knocking it around, but we were keeping our shape and put together a few probes. There followed a game of ‘who scores from corners’. Our first went harmlessly into the keeper’s arms, but the second, from the other side, was flicked on at the near post and was buried by the onrushing Addick. It was given first as Stephens but seems it was indeed Wilson. Just how and why he was in that right spot is a mystery, but full marks for the run and finish. Our next corner saw Morrison get clear but his header went over the bar, while at the other end a Brighton corner caused panic and almost an equaliser.
Understandably having taken the lead we were content to let Brighton knock it around at the back, looking to rob them in midfield and counter. But after looking reasonably comfortable for a period we let them back in after half-an-hour as a rare hopeful lofted ball forward from them saw Morrison make the mistake. He miscued the header up in the air and off balance their guy up front picked it up and before Morrison could get back to him buried it low inside the post. No point dwelling on it, Morrison knew he’d erred and it cost us.
The remainder of the first half was pretty even as having levelled Brighton were more content to take their time, while we continued in the same vein, with Hulse pretty isolated and not much coming down the flanks. After the break the game continued in a similar fashion and for a while became rather scrappy. Aware of their hesitancy from set pieces, Brighton resorted to a mix of shirt-pulling – and hair-pulling – to cope, with the officials seemingly oblivious to it all.
However, Brighton seemed to be gaining the upper hand and had a period of wasted chances. Hamer pulled off his second great save and when their guy seemed sure to score one of our number deflected the shot for a corner. They also fluffed a couple, but just when it seemed we were on the rack we produced a move to break the deadlock. The spark I think came from Stephens shaping up to play it wide right and instead switching direction to Hulse, who moved it out to the left. The ball in produced something of a scramble and it seemed the chance had gone, only for Pritchard to slide the loose ball past the keeper.
At that point the final whistle would have been welcome, but with 20 minutes or so to go we were far from home and hosed. Indeed, passes in midfield started to go astray, with Stephens guilty of one at least which ended up with a foul close to the box. Second time around, a hospital ball across to Wilson saw him lose out and their guy go on to be brought down on the edge of the box. LuaLua had come on as a sub and you feared the worse. However, when the shot was taken it seemed as though the wall had done it’s job, only for their fans suddenly to be celebrating. Seems the shot took a deflection, leaving Hamer no chance.
Kermorgant had just come on for Haynes, with Pritchard going out wide and us reverting to a 4-4-2. For the remainder of the game it was a case of them looking more likely than us to grab the winner, but with Kerkar on for Jackson you felt that if he could get the service something might still go our way. In the end, neither happened and at the finish both sides seemed reasonably satisfied with the draw after an entertaining game. Just a pity about that last-gasp corner we should have had.
We keep our unbeaten record going (and we haven’t lost at home now for four games), we move up a couple of places, and move on to Bolton and Sheff Wed away before Santa arrives. No euphoria, but the next best thing.
Hamer – 9/10. Two excellent saves, dealt with corners when he could, and no chance with the goals.
Wilson – 9/10. My man of the match for today. First game back and no signs of rust, scores a goal and looked a real threat going forward. One late run seemed to go on and on and caused them all sorts of confusion. I’m not going to mark him down for their second goal as for me the fault lay in the pass.
Solly – 8/10. They just didn’t know enough that he plays just as well on the left as on the right. They do now.
Morrison – 6/10. It was a bad mistake for their first. These things happen. Otherwise sound against a team which caused us problems around the box with their movement.
Dervite – 7/10. Composed and decent game. They did create chances but not through anything he obviously did wrong (I’ve no idea who might be culpable for the wall not doing its job for their second).
Haynes – 6/10. Not the sparkling return we hoped for, out wide wasn’t able to use his pace to good effect. But after the lay-off it’s good to have him back available.
Frimpong – 6/10. Effective first half, but it’s not easy chasing shadows against Brighton and seemed to fade in the second.
Stephens – 6/10. Mix of good and bad. I may be being unfair if the second-half misplaced passes weren’t his, but they cost us. On the other side of the coin, his vision set up our second.
Jackson – 6/10. Struggled going forward against a rugged defender, worked hard but not especially influential today.
Pritchard – 6/10. Here too good and bad. Often knocked off the ball or was crowded out and perhaps didn’t provide sufficient support for Hulse, but he scored the second.
Hulse – 7/10. Often isolated but did the lone striker’s role well enough and might have nabbed one.
Subs – Kermorgant (6/10 – not especially influential in the 20 minutes he was on, but we weren’t seeing much of the ball); Kerkar (6/10 – only on for about 10 minutes and didn’t get the service he needed to make an impact).