Gus Poyet must find nitty gritty at Brighton to complement the tiki-taka
Monday 16 April 2012
Conceding six goals is an occupational hazard for promoted clubs, as Norwich discovered to their cost when they came up against a Manchester City side determined to make up lost ground in the Premier League title race.
It was a similar story in the Championship where Brighton & Hove Albion, last season's League One champions, had their play-off ambitions all but extinguished on Saturday by a 6-0 defeat at third-place West Ham, who had not won in front of their own supporters since 4 February, a seven-game stalling that had allowed Reading to take control at the top and Southampton to occupy the other automatic promotion spot.
Gus Poyet's Albion occupied pole position themselves for a few weeks at the start of the campaign but hopes they could emulate Norwich's seamless transition from the third tier to the first soon began to fade. Indeed, this was the second time in three months that Brighton had conceded six goals, as they had been beaten 6-1 at Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round in February. Then, Albion players contributed three own goals. This time it was just one, with midfielder Gary Dicker the unfortunate in question.
Poyet's conclusion was as honest as it was inevitable. "I said a few months ago we were not ready [for promotion] and I think Liverpool and West Ham have proved it," the Uruguayan admitted. "I know what to change in the summer.
"There will be three top-class teams coming down and three coming up, including one, maybe two of the Sheffield clubs [and Charlton Athletic]. We need to be more intelligent and quicker. In just over three months we start a new season and I am looking for players with Premier League experience."
It will be interesting to see what adjustments the former Chelsea favourite does end up making. For Brighton are far more like Swansea City than Norwich when it comes to a comparison of playing style.
Theirs is a patient passing game and for a 20 minute spell in the first half, the ball was constantly at the feet of the men in the green-and-black kit. Not that West Ham particularly minded however; they were already three goals up and had been since the 11th minute.
Swansea had befallen a similar fate in the capital a few days earlier when they were beaten 3-0 at Queen's Park Rangers. They had enjoyed long spells of possession, but there was no end product. And Rangers, fear of relegation pushing them on, wanted to win so much more.
It was a similar story with West Ham. Henri Lansbury hit the bar after 40 seconds or so and Ricardo Vaz Te scored the first of three goals in only the third minute with a long-range effort that swerved through the hands of goalkeeper Peter Brezovan.
Vaz Te's second saw him out-jump defenders at the back post and the third, a close-range conversion by Kevin Nolan, was the result of Hammers centre-back James Tomkins winning a grappling duel in the box with a marker to head a free-kick across goal.
When it comes to passing Brighton are peerless, when it comes to the nitty gritty they are found wanting. Poyet's side, which featured former Valencia trophy-collector Vicente and on-loan Manchester City playmaker Gai Assulin as the men to make things happen, is small in stature.
Marcos Painter, the left-back, cheerfully admits this. "We're always looking to keep passing the ball – if we don't do that we haven't really got much to offer", said the former Swansea player. "We can't match West Ham physically, and that's pretty obvious, but we still try and play whenever we can.
"Swansea have done very well getting to the Premier League. They've stuck to their philosophy and have made it to where they are now. You can't pick one game, start panicking and change your style of play."
Carlton Cole supplied the other West Ham goal via an inadvertent deflection off the heel of Lansbury, who was offside at the time.
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