Setting the scene
Were the wheels coming off Brighton’s promotion push? That was a genuine question in the build up to this game following defeats to Preston North End, Lincoln City and Huddersfield Town in the last month, not to mention relying on a last gasp equaliser to rescue a point from Brentford away. There were plenty of excuses for those failings however – but failure to beat struggling Burton Albion at home would have been a real concern. For Nigel Clough’s side, victory at The Amex would’ve given them their first ever back-to-back wins in the second tier of English football.
Chris Hughton said in the week there was a chance that Dale Stephens and Sam Baldock might recover from injury to play. Given the Albion’s record with medical prognosis under Hughton, that quite justifiably led some supporters to speculate that the pair were in fact clinically dead. It was nice surprise then to see them both in the starting line up along with Lewis Dunk who returned from his latest suspension, Solly March and Tomer Hemed who was rewarded for his excellent form since the turn of the year with a start in place of Glenn Murray.
Hemed justified his inclusion by opening the scoring 12 minutes into the first half. Anthony Knockaert was the architect, making a miracle recovery from a reaction to a tackle a few minutes earlier than suggested his leg had been hacked off to dance his way down the line and cross for Hemed to sweep home. The first half was a borefest from that point on which was in stark contrast to the second which sparked into life with just two minutes gone with a lot of supporters (ourselves included) finishing off pints in the warmth of the concourse. As a result, we are unable to tell you anything about it other than that it was scored by Sam Baldock and that trying to consume two pints and a glass of white wine at half time is a really poor idea. Hemed added the third from the penalty spot after March caused utter chaos which could only be ended when he was fouled in the box. Burton pulled one back with a quite brilliant Michael Kightly free kick but Murray ensured that the game would end up being won by three clear goals when Murray headed home yet another Knockaert cross.
This was a clinical display from the Albion with five shots on targer resulting in four goals. Perhaps the best chance that wasn’t converted fell to Chuba Akpom who showed a decent amount of composure inside the box but dragged his final effort wide of the post. Chances for Burton were few and far between with Marvin Sordell forcing David Stockdale into his only real save of note, a smart stop after Dunk had been skinned by the former Bolton striker.
WeAreBrighton.com Man of the Match
Hemed’s brace ensured he took the award from the match sponsors but Solly March was excellent all afternoon with a special mention to Steve Sidwell who put in one his best shifts of a season that constantly makes you forget he is approaching pensionable age for a footballer.
Three points was the minimum here and the Albion duly delivered to return to the top of the table for a couple of hours before Newcastle won away at Wolves. Although Stevie Wonder could see that changes were inevitable, making five in fell swoop was bold for a manager who is generally quite conservative so credit to Hughton for doing that and it paying off handsomely. Follow it up with three points on Tuesday against Ipswich Town and the last month can hopefully be forgotten about before tough games against a plethora of top 10 sides. As they were singing in the North Stand afterwards (while banging bins like they were drums), we’re on our way…
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