If you told me at the start of the season that Brighton were unbeaten and joint top in the run up to Christmas, I would properly would of died with laughter, but as the time comes, Brighton are indeed unbeaten in 22 league games and joint-top of The Championship, but it could of been very different last night away to QPR. With Brighton still waiting for their first taste of defeat in the league this season, they travelled to Loftus Road, for what was going to be one of their biggest tests yet. They my of got a draw out of the game, but it could have been more yet it could of been less, that how fine games are in The Championship.
With Charlie Austin re-called to the starting line-up, QPR had their chances of beating Brighton for the first time in 11 years increased, and Austin didn’t waste no time in creating the first chance of the game, when he side-stepped Gordon Greer and hit a low shot towards the right-hand corner, however Stockdale got a big hand to it and turned it around the post for a corner. Matt Phillips was next to try his luck, when a mis-controlled attempt for Jamie Murphy allowed Phillips to have a long-range shot, which was subsequently tipped over by Stockdale. Phillips had another chance when a great cross from Austin was missed by Leroy Fer, but fell to Phillips at the back post, he shot beat Stockdale but not Inigo Calderon on the line. Little chances were made after that and both teams went into half time pondering on how they can do better. As they came out for the second half, Brighton finally found themselves indulged in the game with 2 goals in the first 10 minutes of the half, and in the space of 3 minutes. The first was from a corner, after a long Rajiv van La Parra corner was header back across goal by Lewis Dunk towards Dale Stephens, Stephens overhead kicked it low into the right-hand corner of Rob Green’s goal to give he Seagulls a 1-0 lead. Just as QPR were licking their wounds of letting in a soft first goal, they did the same 3 minutes later when Beram Kayal won a header from a QPR throw in, the ball fell kindly to La Parra, who hit a 30 yard thunderbolt which beat the disparing Green and doubled Albion’s lead. Austin had a chance to half the deficit after he neatly took the ball down before striking a volley towards goal, only for Stockdale to palm the ball away to safety. Austin did however take the next chance that fell his way, when Phillips crossed a low ball into the box, Austin’s initial shot bounced off of Greer, but fell into his path to try his luck again, and blasted it into the roof of the net to give the Hoops some hope in getting back into the game. James Wilson had a great chance to restore the 2-goal lead when some bad defending from Gabriel Angella allowed him to go 1-on-2 with Grant Hall and Green, but as he took his shot he was off balance and went straight into the arms of Green. Fer had the next chance after Hall launched a ball towards the back post, Fer rose higher than Calderon, but his header was wide of the post, when if it was on target would of resulted in a certain goal. The turning point happened next when a stupid tackle, if you can call it that, from Dunk resulted in him being booked for a second time, and him given his marching orders. However, Alejandro Faurlin should of also been sent off for his over the top reaction to the tackle, but got away with just a yellow. Brighton were made to pay for that error, when from a corner, Austin rose higher that everyone to guide the ball into the bottom corner, to level the game once again. Bruno could of been at fault too as he was more interested in holding onto Austin rather that trying to defend the cross. QPR could of done what no team in the last 20 games had done, and beat the Seagulls only if Phillips’s shot, deep into 7 minutes of injury time, had been a post width to the right as it hit the outside of the left post, leaving Stockdale rooted to the spot. The game finished with a point each, but both teams felt that they should of taken all 3 home.
Stockdale (8); Done so well to keep out Austin twice before, but couldn’t do it for the whole game. Made some terrific saves and would of defiantly breathed a sigh of relief to see Phillips’s shot go wide late on.
Bruno (7); A little quiet at times during the game, but he was defensively very good except for the defending of the corner when Austin got his and QPR’s second.
Greer (8); Some give him a lot of stick, me one of them, but he did very well to restrict Austin at times, he could of had a bag full of chances if Greer hadn’t intervened. Will need the same character on Saturday.
Dunk (5); He will feel he cost his team the 3 points, and he is right, but there is no excuse for the challenge he made; it was dangerous and he knows it. He defiantly let himself and the team down, and now most will wonder if he will regain his place if Greer and Hunemeier can form a formidable partnership.
Calderon (6); Had a tough night marking Phillips, and did well to some extent, but Phillips did get the better of him a lot of the time but that’s mostly down to pace rather that ability.
La Parra (8); 2 in 2 for the on-loan winger, and is certainly making the most of the chance he has been given. He could well be a potential option in the transfer window with the news that Solly March is out for the season. Took his goal well, bit of luck involved in it, but you need some luck at times.
Kayal (7); Like most of the Brighton attacking players he was barely noticed during the first half, but second half he was pivotal just like he has been so far this season, set up La Parra’s goal and had some half-chances himself.
Stephens (8); Scored his first goal for 10 games, it may not of been a Craig Mackail-Smith style overhead kick, but he will still take it. Solid in the second half too, but as like the other attacking players, he was barely noticed.
Murphy (6); Some feel he is inconsistent, has a good game then a bad one, or a bad first half then a good second half, and although I agree to some extent he has been one of the stand out performers of recent weeks, maybe with the imminent return of Kazenga LuaLua he might be feeling for his place.
Hemed (6); Don’t really know what to say about someone that was hardly in the game, although he is vastly improving his running game when chasing balls and defenders.
Wilson (6); Tricky night for the on-loan United striker, only had 1 good chance which he scuffed, but everyone has quiet games, he will be firing again on Saturday I’m sure.
Zamora (6); Amazing reception from both home and away fans, including the chant ‘We love Bobby more than you’ ringing from the away end. Not much for him to do especially when QPR are throwing everything to try and get back into the game.
Crofts (6); Came on to sure up the midfield, but made a lot harder when down to 10 men.
Hunemeier (6); Came on to fill the hole that Dunk left, although he wasn’t on for long, he made some vital headers from dangerous crosses.
QPR - Brighton; Austin (65), (88); Stephens (53), La Parra (55)
Att; 15,268 (2,360 Brighton)
MOTM; La Parra