Knockaert sees red as Brighton's good run comes to an abrupt end against Everton
Anthony Knockaert received a red card for a reckless lunge on Leighton Baines as Brighton fell to a first defeat in eight matches.
An own goal from Gaetan Bong and a powerful strike from Cenk Tosun tipped the tie in Everton’s favour as the home side ended a run of poor form with a comfortable 2-0 victory.
Knockaert allowed his frustrations to boil over as the red mist descended on the French winger which ended Brighton's hopes of getting back into the game. Mat Ryan kept things from getting any worse with a late penalty save to deny Wayne Rooney his second goal against the Seagulls in as many games.
Chris Hughton was forced to make one change to the side that beat Swansea and Arsenal after Dale Stephens was ruled out with a knock, meaning Beram Kayal started only his third Premier League game of the season. Stephens has started every Premier League game this season and his metronomic presence was sorely missed as Albion looked extremely disjointed in the first half.
Everton manager Sam Allardyce will have been delighted to see his side start the game brightly with Cenk Tosun teeing up Seamus Coleman after four minutes but the Irishman could only drill the ball across the face of goal. Allardyce has been under a bit of pressure from unhappy Everton fans of late so a convincing win was just what the former England manager needed.
It set the tone as Everton controlled the first half from start to finish. The Toffees had eight corners in the opening 45 minutes but only two shots on target, both of which were relatively straight forward for the Albion to deal with.
The only spark of life from Brighton came when Glenn Murray tried his luck from 25 yards midway through the half. His powerful shot was at a comfortable height for Pickford; the England goalkeeper's palms were stung by the effort but he never looked like conceding.
After Albion’s recent exploits Hughton will have been disappointed with the display but no doubt will have settled for the scoreline. The Seagulls appeared to be starting the second half in brighter fashion without ever really looking like scoring, with Gross going closest in the opening 15 minutes.
The first real danger sign of the half came when Rooney hit a firm shot onto Duffy and narrowly over the bar. After an hour they made a breakthrough. The lively but inconsistent Bolasie received the ball wide where he cut in before curling it towards the far post. Theo Walcott appeared to get in front of Gaetan Bong and stab the ball into the top corner; he certainly ran off celebrating the strike but replays showed it was the Albion defender who had touched it in.
Fifteen minutes later it was 2-0. Leighton Baines drove towards the Brighton area and played a quick one-two with Tosun. He laid the ball sideways for Tosun once more and this time the Turkish striker smashed the ball goalwards. It took a slight deflection off of Dunk’s shin but there was no doubt whose goal it was.
Things went from bad to worse for Hughton’s men after 81 minutes when Knockaert’s frustration over the game, and perhaps his own sub-par performance, boiled over. The Frenchman lunged with both feet off the floor at Baines as he controlled the ball. The tackle caught him on the shin but didn’t do any damage; given he had just returned from injury it was no surprise he was unhappy. Roger East showed no hesitation as he immediately whipped out the red card and Brighton could have no complaints over the decision.
The scoreline was almost increased after 87 minutes when Wayne Rooney stepped up to take a penalty. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who had replaced the injured Theo Walcott, got the wrong side of Shane Duffy and, as the ex-Everton centre half put him under pressure, hit the deck. The away support were clearly unimpressed with the decision as the young striker fell theatrically but the ref had made his mind up. Wayne Rooney stepped up confidently and struck the ball well but Mat Ryan dived correctly to save his second penalty in two away games.
Perversely Brighton looked most dangerous when counter attacking after the red card - Gross had a powerful shot pushed wide by Pickford - but, ultimately, the recent run of good form came to an end in dramatic fashion as the Toffees brought the Albion back down to earth with a bump.
Hughton has a week to pick everyone back up ahead of the FA Cup quarter final with United and he’ll have to go into that game without Anthony Knockaert.