Southampton’s Jack Stephens had played 38 games for the club without scoring before netting the winner against Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday. He clearly enjoyed the experience as he did it again last night to give Saints a share of the points in the south coast derby.
Brighton had gone in front with Glenn Murray’s first-half penalty but failed to build on their good start and allowed the home side back into the game. Nevertheless, they were probably happier with the result, which keeps them above their hosts, who have not won in 12 Premier League games and remain in deep trouble.
With both teams struggling for form and goals, the match promised little. Each had signed Argentinian forwards during the transfer window in an attempt to boost poor scoring records, but Guido Carrillo of Saints and Brighton’s Leo Ulloa began the match on the bench.
Brighton, though, should have been ahead in the first minute. Glenn Murray headed on to Pascal Gross, and his low cross from the right found Jose Izquierdo unmarked at the far post. But the Colombian winger’s first-time shot was closer to the roof of the stand than the roof of the net.
Southampton’s nerves resulted in plenty of sloppy passes straight to opponents but Brighton were incapable of taking advantage and usually unable to deliver the right final ball, although a forward prod by Gross was almost turned into his own net by Jack Stephens.
But after 13 minutes they were in front. Izquierdo charged onto Gross’s pass and forced his way into the penalty area on the left, and as Solly March tried to turn on his pass, he was tripped by Wesley Hoedt. Murray beat Alex McCarthy confidently from the penalty to score Brighton’s first league goal on the road in seven games.
Saints came back and Lewis Dunk produced an acrobatic clearance to prevent Shane Long from reaching a cross by James Ward-Prowse. Ryan Bertrand, who had been a doubt before the match with a hamstring injury sustained in Saturday’s FA Cup victory over Watford, was inches high with an angled shot from 15 yards, and Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan had to rush from his line to gather when Dunk misjudged a through ball.
The Australian’s bravery on that occasion meant that he deserved his luck when his attempted clearance cannoned off Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg but rebounded from the crossbar. It would have been a fluke of the streakiest order if the ball had gone in, but it roused a home crowd who had become decidedly restless.
Saints responded by ending the first half on the attack, and they should have levelled early in the second half when Stephens escaped his marker but headed wide. He made up for that miss though, getting his heel to Ward-Prowse’s mis-hit free kick after 64 minutes, the ball bouncing in off the far post. Yet again Brighton had failed to defend a set play, although there seemed to be more than a touch of fortune about the ball’s route into goal.
Both teams had chances after that but a draw was both a fair and a predictable result even if the game had been better than form had suggested.