When Sven-Goran Eriksson was England manager, he used to have this phrase he used after what felt like every game. “First half good, second half not so good.”
Chris Hughton could’ve taken a leaf out of the Swede’s book in his post-match press conference at St Mary’s on Monday night. Brighton and Hove Albion’s 2-2 draw away at Southampton was very much a case of “First half absolutely terrible, second half excellent".
That opening 45 minutes was as bad as anything we’ve seen under Hughton’s management, and that includes a run of games in the Championship when we didn’t score for six consecutive matches. Nobody seemed to have told Dale Stephens or Solly March that we now wear a ghastly green away from home, given the frequency with which they gave the ball away.
Glenn Murray was a virtual spectator and Prince Phillip could complete the 100m quicker than the speed in which the Albion looked to get the ball forward.
The Titanic is one of Southampton’s most famous sons and Brighton were paying their own tribute to the sunken ship, being even deeper than its current location at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Of course, such a negative display is nothing new. Since the Albion won promotion to the Premier League, Hughton’s mantra has always been to try and defend your way to a point, don’t take any risks and certainly don’t try and score a goal if it involves more than three men going forward.
That was fine last season with the squad he had at his disposal. But this season he has been handed over £50m worth of talent, most of it attacking. What that shocking first half at St Mary’s showed us is that we can’t invite wave after wave of opposition pressure and expect to survive. Southampton should’ve been out of sight. We were making one of the poorer teams in the Premier League look like Manchester City.
In contrast, that excellent second half showed us that Brighton now have the talent to go on the road and try and win games. At 1-0 down, Hughton’s hand was forced and he had to abandon that defensive football and, lo and behold, we dominated the game and took what was in the end a deserved point.
Had Hughton sent the Albion out to play like that from the start, then it is likely we’d have come away from Southampton with all three points. The excellent Anthony Knockaert was only denied by a brilliant save from Alex McCarthy (no relation, as anybody who has seen my goalkeeping will attest to) and Davy Propper put a free header wastefully wide.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh went close and if Jurgen Locadia wasn’t channelling the spirit of Craig Davies, then he might have done better with two opportunities as well. The players looked much happier when they were playing on the front foot, as evidenced by the fact that Stephens and March’s pass completion rates shot up from zero in the second half.
Nobody in their right mind would advocate going to the Etihad Stadium for the Albion’s next away game and going all out attack, unless you fancy the Albion’s record defeat of 9-1 to Middlesbrough being eclipsed.
But Monday night’s second half showing was evidence enough that Hughton should try something different when we’re on the road against the sides around us in the table. Manning the trenches in the hope of taking a point didn’t work at Watford. It didn’t work at Southampton.
Chances are it won’t work at Newcastle United in our next winnable away game either. It’s time for Hughton to trust in his players to go out and get a positive result.
It’s a long way to St James’ Park even without the chaos of rail replacement buses to kick off the journey between Brighton and Three Bridges, and the least the travelling fans deserve is a side that is going to try and win the game.
Time to attack, Chris.
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