Brighton & Hove Albion suffered a cruel 1-0 defeat in their quest for Premier League survival as Southampton sneaked home at a sun-soaked Amex Stadium this afternoon.
In a game of few chances, it was Saints who took theirs as they consigned Chris Hughton’s men to another home defeat.
The Seagulls go to Chelsea on Wednesday knowing that Burnley and Southampton have now joined them on 33 points.
It was a dour game of few chances, with Albion struggling to get any rhythm going.
Chris Hughton made just one change from the team that won so thrillingly at The New Den, reverting to the side that won at Crystal Palace in Albion’s last Premier League fixture.
Yves Bissouma came in for Beram Kayal, providing more bite and power in the centre of midfield. Glenn Murray continued up front, hoping to continue his scoring record against Southampton, his last-minute penalty having earned a point for the Seagulls at St Mary's in September
It was one change as well for Southampton. Giant centre-back Jannik Vestergaard missed out completely, with Stuart Armstrong coming into the starting line-up. Saints lined up with four at the back with Yan Valery and Ryan Bertrand alongside Maya Yoshida and Jan Bednarek. James Ward-Prowse continued in midfield, with Danny Ings and Nathan Redmond up front.
Both sides showed signs of rustiness in the early stages, with clear-cut openings at a premium. Bissouma was at the heart of everything Albion were creating and after four minutes a surging run drew a foul around 40 yards out. Albion took heart from this and after good chasing from Murray led to a corner, the ball fell to Bissouma who dragged his shot wide.
The long lay-off showed in the play of both teams, with passes going astray all over the pitch. The first real chance came after 16 minutes when Redmond’s first meaningful contribution led to a corner. Just a minute later, Ryan Bertrand broke forward and unleashed a strong shot that was parried by Ryan.
Albion were struggling to make an impact on the game, with only Bissouma showing any urgency on the ball. He came close after 22 minutes with another powerful run into the box, his shot being comfortably saved by Angus Gunn.
That chance gave Brighton some impetus and after a sweeping pass from Bernardo found Martin Montoya in space, a deft one-two on the edge of the area brought a desperate tackle, but Albion failed to capitalise on the corner.
After 32 minutes the crowd came to life when Anthony Knockaert released Bissouma, who went past two defenders before dragging his shot wide. The Albion crowd did their best to raise the volume and they were in full voice when Bernardo pulled off an incredible lunging challenge to deny James Ward-Prowse.
Murray was not quite at his best and was caught offside on a number of occasions, much to the crowd’s frustration. Southampton began to put the Albion defence under more pressure and Knockeart was called upon to carry out some last-ditch defensive duties.
Southampton ended the half strongly and Redmond should have done better when put in by Ings. Instead he dragged his shot wide of Maty Ryan’s near post.
The second period began with Albion being urged on by the crowd, but it was Southampton who took the lead on 52 minutes. Sloppy play in midfield led to the ball falling to Redmond, who powered into the box. He slipped the ball to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who drove the ball past Ryan in front of the gleeful travelling supporters.
Chris Hughton drove his men forward and on 55 minutes, a free-kick swung in by Knockaert was headed over by Lewis Dunk. Albion were stung into life after going behind and Bissouma went close with a drive from 25 yards, with a shot that flew just over the bar. Southampton began to slow the play down, much to the frustration of the crowd.
On 61 minutes, Hughton made his first change, the disappointing Jahanbakhsh giving way to Solly March. Albion seemed incapable of unlocking the very crowded Southampton defence and were lacking in ideas whenever the ball got near the opposition penalty area.
Ralph Hasenhuttl brought off Danny Ings for Sam Gallagher in a like for like substitution but it was Albion who nearly equalised on 71 minutes. After more careful build-up play Montoya unleashed a ferocious drive that cannoned off the crossbar. This was followed almost immediately by a huge penalty shout as Davy Propper appeared to be hauled to the ground just inside the area. Referee Michael Oliver waved away the protests and that was to be Propper’s last contribution, as he gave way to Jurgen Locadia for the last 18 minutes.
Southampton continued to hold firm and bolstered their defensive numbers when Stuart Armstrong was withdrawn for Jack Stephens. Albion continued to push Southampton back but Locadia and March were unable to carve out any chances. With just six minutes to go, Locadia drew a sharp save from Gunn after a turn and shot from the edge of the penalty area and Albion had another half-hearted shout for a penalty turned down.
Solly March drew groans of frustration from the crowd with five minutes to go when his over-hit pass rolled past Murray and into the advertising hoardings in front of the North Stand.
In a last desperate throw of the dice, Shane Duffy went forward but the service failed to match the intention. As the game moved into four minutes of stoppage time it was the Saints fans who could be heard.
The final whistle was greeted with joy by the Saints players, with Hasenhuttl sprinting to join in the celebrations.
Albion were left to rue what chances they created and the failure to generate any urgency into their game until they had fallen behind. The performance will need to be a lot better when they go to Chelsea on Wednesday evening.
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