Match Review – Brighton v Chelsea

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It’s a weird feeling, coming away from a 4-0 home defeat but thinking you’ve actually played really well.

There have been some absolutely abject defeats in which Brighton and Hove Albion have conceded four times at home in the past. Scunthorpe United at Withdean in 2008 when Colin Hawkins spent most of the game lying on his back resembling a woman about to give birth after being tormented by Gary Hopper springs to mind.

Dean White took charge when Crewe Alexandra won 4-0 at Withdean and League Two looked the destination before Russell Slade turned up to do his best Steve McQueen impression.

Then there was that infamous day at the Priestfield when Darlington visited in 1999. Just a few months ahead of the Albion’s move back to Withdean and the city of Brighton and Hove, the club decided to offer free entry to any kids under 16 as well as bussing them all to Gillingham in the hope of attracting a new generation of supporters. It’s unlikely Marco Gabiadni’s hat trick in Darlo’s 4-0 win attracted many kids to be Albion fans that day and it was an even worse day for Jeff Wood who was sacked as manager as a result after three months in the job.

The experience of being beaten by Chelsea on Saturday was about as far removed from those chastening days as is possible. For 80 minutes on Saturday, Brighton played with attacking intent and had a right go at the reigning Premier League champions.

There were two very strong penalty appeals waved away by Jon Moss, Tomer Hemed put a header straight at Willy Caballero with the whole goal to aim at but it still took an outrageous save to keep it out, Shane Duffy sent a header wide which should’ve at least gone on target and Davy Propper hit the bar.

Not taking chances is a familiar story this season and one that the watching Jurgen Locadia needs to address and fast. But in Eden Hazard, Chelsea had the best player on the pitch by a country mile and he gave the best individual performance ever seen at the Amex. In fact, it probably ranks as one of the best ever against the Albion.
Hazard put the Blues ahead inside of four minutes. Two minutes later and Hazard, Willian and Michy Batshuayi combined in a whirlwind one-touch passing move that was quicker than Kate and Gerry McCann to a tapas restaurant that Willian finished off for the second.

At that stage it looked like it could have been a cricket score, those who confidently proclaimed before the game that this was the day we finally knocked off one of of the top six were busy removing egg from their faces and questions of Chris Hughton’s sanity in switching to a 3-5-2 formation were being asked.

The Albion came roaring back, largely through the efforts of Ezequiel Schelotto. The Italian international was like a fish out of water as a winger at Huddersfield and has polarised supporters with his performances as a full back but he was outstanding at wing back, rightly taking the man of the match accolade.

He should have had two penalties. There was definite contact when Caballero quite blatantly bought him down but Schelotto over exaggerated his fall which didn’t help his cause and then he got into a tangle with Tiemoune Bakayoko but again Moss said no foul.

Hemed’s missed header was more of a golden opportunity than those two unawarded spot kicks and with both Schelotto and Mark Suttner on the other flank bombarding the Chelsea box was crossed and Caballero flapping like a dolphin at every ball that came in, the decision to drop Glenn Murray – you know, our best header of the ball – to the bench was a strange one.

The second half was a similar tale of the Albion creating chances but not taking them. There was the aforementioned Propper header and Schelotto was close to scoring as well.

Maty Ryan pulled off one superb finger tip save from a Willian free kick but there was nothing he could do about Hazard’s second. That came after Shane Duffy gave the ball straight to Hazard and the Belgian gleefully accepted the gift, gliding across the field and leaving no less than three Brighton players on their backs before he saw Ryan diving one way and rolled the ball into the opposite corner.

That was game over and Chelsea added their fourth late on when Victor Moses shrugged off the challenge of Suttner to round things off nicely. 4-0, but a score line harsh on the Albion.

So what next? Hughton is a man who is normally so consistent in selection you could set your watch by him. The formation change was a big shock but it’s something worth persevering with given that we looked as good going forward as we have in any other game this season.

The next four games really are season defining. Southampton away, West Ham home, Stoke away, Swansea home. Play like we did on Saturday and we have nothing to fear from any of those, unless of course Hazard moves to one of them.

Or Marco Gabbiadini.

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