Chris Hughton can only hope that every game of his Brighton and Hove Albion tenure is like this. On his fourth day in the manager’s job, at his first match in charge, he saw his side outplayed here by Brentford who missed chance after glaring chance to win the match.
It looked like Brighton were going to be reminded again how what used to be one of the best-run teams in the Championship had been overtaken by clubs far smaller than them. But then Lewis Dunk and Chris O’Grady scored for the visitors and everything somehow fell joyously into place for the new manager.
By the end the 1,600 travelling fans in the Brook Lane End were singing Hughton’s name and all the difficulties, the pressures and the heavy expectations of managing this club seemed to melt away. Brighton are in the fourth round of the FA Cup, at the very least.
“You can see what a good side Brentford are,” Hughton said afterwards, “and we were able to ride our luck a little bit.” But Hughton was delighted with the “resilience” of his side who stayed in the game for as long as possible, before taking their chances to win it.
What this cold, frantic, fortunate afternoon means for Brighton’s Championship form remains to be seen. There is still a gulf between where Brighton are and where they need to be. They are the third-best supported team in the dvision, averaging over 25,000 at home. They have finished fourth and sixth in the past two seasons, losing in the play-offs. Sami Hyypia took them to 21st. His predecessor, Oscar Garcia, was here at Griffin Park watching on, a reminder of the men before Hughton who have tried to drag this team up out of the Championship but have not been able to.
This was, of course, an experimental line-up from Hughton. It could not have been anything else. And for the first hour they were out-played by a Brentford side with far more confidence. It used to be Brighton who bought intelligently, but two young Spanish players in Brentford shirts – Jota and Jon Toral – ran midfield. Toral missed a few chances, Andre Grey missed a few more and, with a bit more luck, Brentford could have been 4-0 up. Brighton were hanging on, relying on the interventions of Gordon Greer, who will surely be as important as anyone to Hughton’s side.
Hughton is still assessing his players and with 24 minutes left he threw on Chris O’Grady for Craig Mackail-Smith. O’Grady, back from a loan spell at Sheffield United, had not scored for Brighton before today, but he was instantly dangerous on arrival. One shot squirmed under Jack Bonham and rolled wide, another hit the post, and Brighton were back in the game.
Brentford, in manager Mark Warburton’s words, had stated to “take liberties” at the back and, in the penultimate minute, Dunk headed in from Solly March’s free-kick. The away fans went wild, and then even wilder one minute later when O’Grady raced in behind and finally found the net.
While some of the Premier League loanees – Darren Bent, Elliot Bennett, Gary Gardner – have been sent back, O’Grady has been recalled and has a new chance to impress. “I need to assess what I have,” said Hughton, who is keen to learn about his players. “You don’t really know until you work with them.”
It may take some time to turn this ship around – Championship survival is the immediate priority – but Hughton is delighted to be back. “For all the stresses, the strains and the lows, the feeling of winning will never change,” he said. “That is why we are involved in this business.”
Brentford: (4-3-3) Bonham; Odubajo, Dean, Tarkowski, Bidwell; Toral (Dallas, 77), Judge (Yennaris, 87), Diagouraga; Jota, Gray, Smith (Saunders, 62).
Brighton: (4-2-3-1) Stockdale; Calderon, Greer, Dunk, Chickse; Holla, Ince; March, Teixiera (Halford, 66), Baldock; Mackail-Smith (O’Grady, 66).
Referee: David Coote.
Man of the match: Toral (Brentford)
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content