Match Review – Brighton 3-1 West Ham United

westhamhomereview18

What a difference three days makes. 72 hours after showing all the attacking intent of a prawn in scraping to a 1-1 draw against Southampton, Chris Hughton released the handbrake for the visit of West Ham United. The result? A 3-1 victory and our best performance since victory against the Hammers at the London Stadium in October.

West Ham and their supporters – why is it obligatory to wear a flat cap and dress like an extra from Peaky Blinders if you support them by the way? – will be glad to see the back of us. In our two games, we’ve scored six times, conceded only once, taken six points and José Izquierdo has scored two goals of the season candidates.

Andy Naylor may have taken great pleasure in berating Albion fans who criticised the team and set up in that draw at St Mary’s, but this highlighted what we can do against sides around us as an attacking force when Hughton releases the shackles rather than sending everyone into a coma in the hope of boring our way to a point.

There was one period of Saturday’s game where we sat back ala the Southampton game and funnily enough, that was also the one period when West Ham got on top. It came after the Hammers goal when Javier Hernandez foxtrotted his way a little too easily around Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy, but you couldn’t argue with the quality of the finish from the Little Pea, slamming home via the crossbar.

Just as the Saints equaliser led to a desperate retreat to defence, so did the West Ham one. Luckily, we managed to make it through the remaining 15 minutes of the first half. After the interval, we abandoned the negative approach by going back on the attack. West Ham didn’t have another meaningful chance after that and that made for a comfortable afternoon.

Glenn Murray had opened the scoring with a cool one-on-one finish past Adrian with less than 10 minutes played. We have may solved the striker shortage by bringing in two new players in the January transfer window, but at this rate neither Leonardo Ulloa or Jurgen Locadia (when fit) are going to be required to start games given the form Murray is in.

Brighton’s second goal was easily the best we’ve ever seen at the Amex. Hammers boss David Moyes described it as world class and he wasn’t wrong. A typically wasteful Albion corner was sent all the way over to the other side of the pitch where Izquierdo managed to pick up the loose ball. He had time and space out on the left to pick out who we wanted with what everyone in the stadium expected would be a cross, but instead the Colombian sent in a shot with exactly the right amount of pace and bend to completely deceive Adrian, brushing his outstretched fingers and flying into the top right hand corner of the net.

If that was a brilliant individual goal, then the Albion’s third was as a result of an equally brilliant passing move finished off by Pascal Gross. This was a welcome return to form for the German playmaker – he also claimed an assist for Murray’s goal with a perfectly weighted through ball – after a few weeks of under par performances, probably due to tiredness as he experiences not having the luxury of a winter break for the first time in his career.

When Gross is in this mood and you are playing attacking football, he will create plenty of opportunities to win you football games. Nothing summed up the difference in approach to the one we saw at St Mary’s than the outstanding Gaetan Bong, who had more touches in West Ham’s half than he did in our own.

This performance highlighted just how damaging the Albion can be to sides around us in the Premier League table. Hopefully, it will serve as a lesson ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Stoke City, another side struggling below us in the table.

Obviously, you probably don’t want your left back playing more in the opponent’s half away from home but there is a balance to be struck between the positive display we saw on Saturday and the negative one of Wednesday night. If we go one ahead at Stoke early on, why not keep plugging away for a second rather than retreating to man the barricades and attempt to hold on?

With four points on the board out of our target of seven from the Southampton, West Ham, Stoke and Swansea games, we can afford to lose in the Potteries as long as we then beat Swansea the following week. But why settle for that? Why not try and build some real momentum by pushing for three points against Stoke to open up a six point gap between us and them and secure a first ever win at the Bet365 Stadium in the process?

Hughton has shown us what can happen when we release the handbrake, and it was the best performance in three months and a second win in 15 games. Let’s hope we don’t revert back to type and that handbrake doesn’t come all the way back on next week.

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