I’m sure that all those pre-season doubters are thinking of shooting themselves, after the incredible streak that Brighton are currently on. Most pundits had Brighton down for a mid-table finish, and even FourFourTwo magazine had them down for a 23rd place finish! They clearly didn’t take into account the record that Chris Hughton possesses when it comes to managing Championship teams, or the fact that Brighton had got to the play-offs twice in a row previously before their shocking season last year. Well, they are being made to eat their own words, after Brighton made it 18 unbeaten after a fantastic 2-1 win over Birmingham. It wasn’t more than what they deserved, as the Seagulls dominated the game from start to finish, bar a few late attacks from the visitors.
Hughton named the same team that came away with a point from Burnley last Sunday, but he did name the 2 new loan signings, Rajiv van La Parra and James Wilson on the bench. The game started fast and the first opportunity came from Dale Stephens, after Liam Rosenior broke down the left wing and send a swinging cross towards Stephens, only for his header to go over the bar. Next was the turn of Jamie Murphy, after his mazy run between 3 defenders allowed him to have a shot, but it was deflected behind for a corner. Murphy was a the centre of the next chance, he dribbled past 2 defenders before laying in Rosenior, to which he crossed towards Solly March, and after he mis-kicked his initial shot, he followed it up and fire home his 3rd goal of the season. It was shot lived however, as Birmingham almost immediately responded when some lovely intricate play allowed Jacques Maghoma to hit a shot towards the Albion goal; David Stockdale did save it, but the ball fell kindly for Jon Toral to head the ball into an empty net to level the scores. The ever-brilliant Rosenior was disappointingly stretched off with a serious-looking injury, and replace by Inigo Calderon, we wish him the best. A bit of controversy next when a swinging March free-kick was initially caught by Tomasz Kuszczak but then dropped, with the ball then being bundled home by Tomer Hemed. However, referee Gavin Ward had given a free kick in favour of Birmingham, thinking that Lewis Dunk had fouled Kuszczak prior to him dropping the ball. Beram Kayal was next to test Kuszczak after his rasping free-kick flew through the wall, but unfortunately was straight a the keeper; either side of him and it was a goal. Toral had a chance just before half-time, after his curled shot was inches away from nestling in the Brighton goal, but both teams went in level at half-time. 2 minutes into the second-half the Seagulls regained the lead; Murphy flashed a pass across goal for March to hit, his shot was saved by Kuszczak but he only parried it to Bobby Zamora, and the fan favourite poked the ball home for his second close range goal in as many games. March broke down the right wing once again, but his cut-back was comfortably saved by Kuszczak with Wilson and Hemed lurking. Demarai Gray had a great chance to grab an equaliser, but his powerful, low shot was saved by Stockdale and went out for a corner. March once again produced some magic on the right, when he jinked past 2 defenders and sent in a great ball towards Hemed, but the Israeli wasn’t tall enough to get his head on it. Wilson had his first Albion chance; he cut inside from the left wing and hit a low shot across the goal, although it flew just inches away from the post and went out for a goal-kick. He had another chance when he was put through 1-on-1 with Kuszczak, his shot came back off the right post and into the relived arms of Kuszczak. As the game was coming to a close, Stockdale saved the 3 points from turning into 1 after he stopped a David Davis attempt, which was goal-bound. The whistle was met with cheers as the Seagulls extended their unbeaten run at the expense of beating the division’s best away team.
Stockdale (7); Didn’t have too much to do, but once again commanded his box well and helped keep the 3 points from turning into 1.
Bruno (7); A solid game for the right-back, his overlapping runs over March offered more options and caused Birmingham problems, which allowed March to thrive in attacking areas. Great defensive duties too.
Greer (7); Had a difficult job in marking the tricky, lightning quick Gray but did the job well and didn’t allow him to have anytime on the ball for him to produce his magic.
Dunk (7); He had a good game, kept Gray quiet with the help of Greer, but once again he seemed to want to wrestle with his opponent’s more than tackling them. Needs to be slightly careful, as some ref’s won’t be as lenient as others.
Rosenior(6); Heart-breaking for the new Albion favourite. Prior to his injury he fashioned chances and produced some neat work with the help of Murphy. Obviously we wish him the best with his recovery.
Murphy (8); Just keeps getting better and better with every game, his confidence must be sky high; drew the defenders in and glided past them numerous times which created chances for the front 2.
Kayal (7); The solid midfield duo once again commanded the centre of the pitch; Kayal had some good chances in the second half, but was more focused on defensive duties this week.
Stephens (7); Arguably one of the best centre-midfielder’s in the Championship, his work rate and skill is second-to-none and showed that on Saturday. Let’s hope it can continue for the rest of the season.
March (9); An outstanding display from the young winger, he really is starting to blossom under Hughton, and like Murphy’s, his confidence must be sky high. Got on the score sheet again, and caused numerous headaches for Jonathan Grounds at left-back.
Zamora (8); Poked home his second tap in in as many games, and has now scored 4 for the season. Great hold up play with Hemed, before being replaced just past the our-mark for Wilson.
Hemed (7); Had a goal incorrectly dissallowed, but the chances are there for the forward; he just needs to take one and he will be back on the goal-scoring trail.
Calderon (7); Replaced the injured Rosenior and partnered up well with Murphy, which caused Paul Caddis to re-think his strategy of trying to get forward as much as possible.
Wilson (6); Should of opened up his Albion account on his debut, but what signing he looks; bags of pace and will cause havoc in the opposition’ defence.
Ince (5); Replaced Hemed to sure up the midfield and see the game out.
Brighton - Birmingham; March (17) Zamora (47); Toral (22)