Match Review – Brighton 1-0 Barnet

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Remember when you were a kid, and your parents would offer you incentives to do something you didn’t want to do? Like “Eat your greens, then you can have pudding.” “Wash your face, then you can go and play.” “Do your homework, then you can bunk off school on Tuesday to go to Hull away” (that last one got mother in trouble with the truancy police in 1996).

Well, the Albion were in the role of parents here. Sit through 90 absolutely turgid minutes of football, and you can pick up the maximum 15 loyalty points to help in your quest to get tickets for the big away games. We’re tempted to say that increasing our chances of going to Manchester United or Arsenal away wasn’t worth watching Brighton labour to a victory over Barnet in the Carabao Cup.

Chris Hughton sent out a relatively strong team and yet we had to ride our luck and then rely on a goal from a 19-year-old substitute to beat League Two opposition and book a place in round three. This was a performance that the term ‘laboured’ was invented for.

Niki Maenpaa made more saves in this match than Maty Ryan has managed all season. Ryan’s well documented trials and tribulations so far have already seen some fans making a case for the Finn to have a run as number one and he strengthened that here. There was a brilliant save from point blank range from a Jamal Campbell-Ryce header and Maenpaa looked confident claiming everything that was thrown into his box. On the two occasions he was beaten, the woodwork came to the Albion’s rescue.

Maenpaa was one of only a couple of the senior players on show who actually impressed. Uwe Hunemeier was easily the best player on the park and Liam Rosenior looked good captaining the side. At the other end of the scale, Richie Towell and Jiri Skalak were awful. It’s quite a turn around for Skalak in particular who just a year ago was one of the most popular players at the club after the blistering start he made to his Albion career. It would not be a surprise to see both shipped off in the next week before the transfer window closes as on this evidence they aren’t anywhere near Premier League standard.

Anthony Knockaert got an interesting 45 minutes under his belt. He was his normal daring self running with the ball, a most encouraging sight given the lack of chances we’ve created in the Premier League so far. But he seemed to be playing in a constant mood, smashing his first into the ground as though he’d broken a leg after one tackle and then jumping up absolutely fine when he realised he wasn’t getting the decision. He picked up a cheap booking and – sacrilege as it is to say it about a man who can do no wrong – could have justifiably been sent off. You wonder if his withdrawal at half time was pre-planned or for his own protection to prevent a red card and suspension.

In his place came James Tilley and it was the striker who got the only goal, following up a Rosenior shot that hit the post. It was a great moment for the teenager, especially in light of the fact that the only home grown players we’ve bought through our youth system in seven seasons at the Amex are Lewis Dunk and Solly March. Producing strikers seems to have been akin finding Atlantis for the Albion so hopefully Tilley can go onto improve a record of success which reads Jake Robinson/Chris McPhee/Joe Gatting.

Tilley wasn’t the only player from the stiffs to look good either, with Jayson Molumby, Ales Mateju and Aaron Connolly all impressing. Connolly became the first player to represent the club born this Millennium, which means that he wasn’t even alive when Darren Freeman scored the first goal of the Millennium against Exeter City at Withdean. Now we feel old.

And speaking of feeling old, we are going to feel even older now – but a little bit of perspective is needed. There were plenty of people on Twitter describing this as the worse Brighton game ever. It wasn’t even close. Boring and frustrating, yes. But worst? No.

Funnily enough that was against Barnet but back in 1997, when only 1,025 people trekked to Gillingham on a cold, wet Wednesday Bonfire Night to watch Steve Gritt’s Albion absolutely battered 3-0 by the Bees. Just remember nights like that, when Barnet were a class above us, to see how far we’ve come in 20 years.

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