Coke leaves Seagulls feeling flat after opening-day defeat

Sami Hyypiä?s competitive debut started promisingly enough
Sami Hyypiä?s competitive debut started promisingly enough

The enthusiasm that engulfs every club on the opening day of the season lasted 41 minutes.

The wealth of enthusiasm that engulfs every football club on the opening day of the season lasted just 41 minutes at the Amex, with Giles Coke’s well-taken winner leaving Albion fans feeling flat.

Sami Hyypiä’s competitive debut in the Brighton dug-out started promisingly enough, with Kazenga Lua Lua showing an encouraging ability to find space in his more central role and new signing Chris O’Grady looking like, if not a direct replacement for Leo Ulloa,  certainly capable of establishing himself as a solid squad player in the style of Ashley Barnes.

That, however, was where the positives ran dry. Jake Forster-Caskey was fortunate not to see red for an early lunge attempting to recover from a poor first touch and supporters quick to blame referee James Linington for dismissing Albion’s Andrew Crofts for what seemed an ugly challenge deserving of a straight red on 50 minutes should remember the official’s leniency moments later in not showing Forster-Caskey a deserved second yellow.

Hyypiä’s decision to leave both Craig Mackail-Smith and Will Buckley on the bench on favour of emerging talent Shamir Fenelon baffled some supporters and, in truth, it was a difficult game for the attacking talent to make his mark in. Fenelon, who has impressed in pre-season, spent the majority of playing time on the peripheries of the match and was replaced with half an hour remaining. It wasn’t an exciting first glimpse of attacker, but supporters shouldn’t rush to write him off just yet.

Buckley, however, appears to have now also dropped below Solly March in the pecking order, with Hyypiä revealing the England Under 21 player would have started had he not failed a fitness test. Where that leaves Buckley, a target for West Brom and Sunderland, remains to be seen. A bid of £2.5 million is rumoured to have been lodged by former Albion boss Gus Poyet. A slightly-improved offer would seem attractive given the player’s fitness problems, but a Buckley sized-hole in the Albion squad is another that would require filling with time running out this transfer window.

Inigo Calderon was willing on the left, but a specialist left-back must surely be the top of the Albion’s priority list, if not Stephen Ward then someone of a similar standard. In fact, it was one-time Albion loan left-back Joe Mattock who proved a menace down the visitor’s left, helped in part by Brighton’s tactic of pushing full-backs into advanced positions. That system will take time to bed in, but a new left-back surely needs recruiting sooner rather than later.

O’Grady almost equalised but saw his second half shot comfortably parried by Kieran Westwood in the Wednesday goal in what was the home side’s best sight of goal as the Albion’s shape and attacking intent slowly dissolved following Crofts’ dismissal.

Kemy Agustien was introduced on 60 minutes, as much to spare Forster-Caskey an increasingly likely looking second yellow card and flattered to deceive. There has a been much goodwill dispatched in the direction of the midfielder over the summer months, with Seagulls supporters hoping Hyypiä can get the best out of Agustien in a way his predecessor seemed incapable of. Agustien, however, looked off the pace. Contrary to what some supporters say, the playmaker is not overweight. He is though, too bulky.

The muscular midfielder could be a key player for the Albion and at times on Saturday he displayed a pleasant touch and eye for an attacking pass. To truly flourish, however, he surely needs to add a higher level of mobility to his game, although his cause was not helped by being introduced at a time when Brighton were a man short. Hopefully he will afforded a start against Cheltenham on Tuesday to show his worth and improve his match sharpness. If not, and with the mooted arrival of Adam Clayton looming large on the horizon, Agustien may well find himself with restricted first team opportunities. With Crofts suspended, the next three games could come to define Agustien’s time at the Albion. Most supporters are still desperate to see him succeed.

Despite large spells of possession, Albion struggled to open up a resolute Wednesday team, with Lua Lua and O’Grady the only players to genuinely trouble Westwood and the away side deserved their victory, if only for the quality of Coke’s winning goal which arched over debutant David Stockdale and into the far corner after a well-weighted set-up by Jacques Maghoma.

It wasn’t all negative. Aaron Hughes and Gordon Greer looked a solid double-act, although both will have tougher outings this season. There is a nagging suspicion that a pairing of Hughes and Greer may struggle against a more mobile frontman than Wednesday’s giant but ponderous Atdhe Nuhiu.

Hyypiä will need time to implement his new style. He will also, one suspects, needs at least three extra additions to a squad which is currently weaker than the one enjoyed by Oscar Garcia and Gus Poyet before him.

A week, however, is a long time in football. Supporters should not panic yet. A new left-back, the potential recruitment of Clayton and a new starting centre forward would drastically change the outlook. Whether they are delivered remains to be seen but fans would do well not to make too many assumptions based on an albeit disappointing first competitive outing.

Match rating: Stockdale 6, Bruno 6, Greer 7, Hughes 7, Calderon 6, Ince 6, Crofts 5, Forster-Caskey 5, Lua Lua 6, Fenelon 5, O’Grady 6. Subs: Agustien 5, Buckley 5, Mackail-Smith 6.