Brighton remember how to win football matches
Maybe it’s the influence of Upson and Ulloa, but the Albion look to have become winners again. Earlier in the season you would have been forgiven for expecting a late equaliser yesterday against Burnley. And you would have had to put your hand on your heart and say, unlike against Bolton, Birmingham, Wolves etc, it would have been well deserved.
The Albion performance showed signs of brilliance and also, perhaps more importantly, many signs of resilience. Starting from the back, Big Tomasz made several excellent saves, including one that had the entire stadium on its feet to applaud him. With Burnley looking strong from every cross and corner coming in, one header was cleared off the line by Dicker (I think), the next a few seconds later was destined to the other unguarded corner, before Kuszczak clawed it onto the post at the last possible moment. A real Banks moment.
Mind you, all of these worries should have been unnecessary. I have no doubt at all that Leo Ulloa is going to score a lot of goals in this team, his positioning in the box is excellent and with a bit more composure, he would have given Brighton a two-goal lead near the end of the first half after a move that was straight out of the top drawer. Lopez looked up and fired a crossfield ball that the Burnley defender must have been certain he could get because he made every effort to head it into touch right up to the point where it went over his head and into the path of Orlandi. His first touch was, as usual, divine and took him into the perfect crossing zone where he then hit a perfect cross to Leo who had peeled away from his marker and then blasted it into the north stand from 6 yards. Many in the crowd assumed it was in and was almost a perfect moment. Like many great moves put together by the Albion at the Amex over the last 18 months, it was another period of perfect football that was let down by the finish. It really isn’t long before these start counting.
No such worries for the only goal of the match though. Vicente, Bridge, Orlandi and the coolest of quality finishes from Spanish DAve on 20 minutes gave us the early lead that we need to relax and take control of a game. It looked at that point that this might go on to be a comfortable victory, but the goal instead seemed to wake up Burnley, who always looked dangerous with hopeful punts into the box. Austin is an excellent header of the ball and he was often first to the crosses, particularly when up against Adam or Bruno. Upson appears to be a rock in these circumstances and Austin tended to avoid having him as his marker.
A special mention should be made here for Upson. Ignoring the opening game when he hadn’t been with us more than a day or so, he has added much needed steel and aerial strength to the defence. Tomasz seems to flourish behind him and with Greer returning to the team for a five minute, nervous cameo at the end of the game, Gus has an unenviable selection problem. For my money, Upson has to stay in. I suspect Greer will step into Adam’s shoes next week and then it is up to the three of them to fight for the places.
Mackail-Smith came on for the last stanza of the match to replace Ulloa who had once again worked his socks off. Apart from the miss (which in fairness he must have seen late and had got into perfect position for) he terrorised the Burnley defence. He was not given a pretty nailed on pen for a push in the back that @BHASnappy caught perfectly (will add pic if he allows it) in the second half. Craig though did a great job of holding up the ball and generally seeing us over the finish line. He was looking back to his menacing best and I suspect i am not the only person hoping to see him and Ulloa develop a goal thirsty partnership.
Ashley Barnes also made a late entrance after suspension, but his role was to replace the less defensively able Orlandi in a general shoring up exercise by Gus. This culminated in sponsor’s man of the match Vicente coming off for Greer with 5 minutes left. I must say this worried me as it meant the possibility of confusion in a defence that had looked mainly solid – but no such worries as CMS and Spanish Dave saw the clock down with some hugely frustrating (for Burnley) antics in the South West corner.
A word on man of the match. I agree that Vicente was as usual the class act and very hard not to give it to him. But Lopez, Bridge and, in particular, Kuszczak must have run him very close.
With Leicester dropping points, Palace losing and then Boro going on to also lose at home to Millwall, Albion are now comfortable in the play-off zone. A final position in the top 6 is now in our hands and to be honest, only Forest of the chasing pack look capable of catching us.
Never be over-confident, but with a home game against the league’s anti-form club, Huddersfield, coming up next, there is real optimism around the club and the fans. Whatever happens from here on in, it is going to be exciting and exhilarating. And if we continue to polish our match-winning ability, this season could yet end at Wembley!