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Angeball vs Zerbball: An unconvincing flat affair only sparked into life with last-gasp winner

Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 Brighton and Hove Albion: Brennan Johnson’s late equaliser secured all three points for Spurs

Sonia Twigg
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Saturday 10 February 2024 18:03 GMT
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Richarlison celebrates with late scorer Brennan Johnson
Richarlison celebrates with late scorer Brennan Johnson (PA)

Both Ange Postecoglou and Roberto De Zerbi have brought innovative and entertaining football to their respective clubs at Tottenham and Brighton, but the clash between the two in north London threatened to showcase the opposite.

The two men and their football clubs this year have shown a lot to admire. Neither has had a traditional route into Premier League management, both have had to work hard to get there and their teams play exciting football, for the most part at least. But the meeting at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was a far cry from the 4-2 thriller that took place at the Amex Stadium less than three months previously until a last-gasp winner from Brennan Johnson sealed all three points for the home side in an otherwise scrappy contest.

The first half was a drab affair, and De Zerbi may want to address things when he returns to Brighton as he was absent from the touchline while recovering from surgery. Fouls were more prominent than chances, with the play broken up at all too regular intervals, but the visitors led by a Pascal Gross penalty. Tottenham started the second half with more energy, but it was not the same transformation that saw them overcome Brentford, although a period of sustained pressure did lead to a Pape Matar Sarr equaliser.

His first attempt was deflected onto the post, and it bounced back favourably for the 21-year-old, who curled the ball home.

Tottenham had scored 50 goals and conceded 36 heading into the game, while Brighton had conceded 39 and scored 43, after 90 minutes the game came down to a penalty kick and an equaliser that only came because of a fortunate rebound off the woodwork.

Son’s introduction injected life into the crowd (AFP via Getty Images)

The re-introduction of Heung-min Son immediately after the leveller injected life into the performance and the crowd, and it was the South Korean, back in the side following his nation’s exit from the Asian Cup, who provided the assist for Johnson to tap home in the fourth minute of stoppage time.

When Son came on it seemed to provide the moment the crowd had been waiting for, the cheer for him warming up was one of the loudest noises other than the goal and jeers reserved for Brighton goalkeeper’s presumed time-wasting.

Postecoglou admitted that the role of his players from the bench helped change the course of the game.

“(They were) very important. I think at the beginning of the year we won a few games late on because of that (the impact of substitutes) and we have that capability now of putting guys on who can make an impact. I thought they did today and it also keeps guys on their toes if they’re not performing and gives me some options,” the Spurs boss said.

Although even Postecoglou had to admit the first half was not a thriller, saying: “Fair to say the first half wasn’t great.

“We just took a few liberties with our football, our effort and our workrate, there were a few things that we have been really good at this year but we just didn’t do it in the first half.”

The game started with promise, inside the first minute, Danny Welbeck had managed to win the ball off the Tottenham defender, run into the box and turn and take a curled shot that would have gone into the corner of the net if not for a palmed save from Guglielmo Vicario.

Brighton then took the lead in the 17th minute when Micky van de Ven clumsily left his foot in a challenge with Welbeck, and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot. Gross made no mistakes from the following spot-kick, which did not even warrant an extensive VAR review, sending Vicario the wrong way to send the visitors into the lead.

The game was a foul-filled contest (AFP via Getty Images)

Cristian Romero could consider himself fortunate to have remained on the pitch after the opening 25 minutes. There was a foul when he went straight through the back of a Brighton midfielder and another completely unprovoked and off the ball against Adam Lallana. Both went unpunished but could have been yellow cards.

James Maddison had a chance to level the match in the 26th minute when Richarlison played in the England international, who set up a curled shot but it was over the bar.

It was not until just after the hour mark however that Spurs found the equaliser. Sarr capitalised after a Brighton error allowed Spurs to win the ball in midfield, and the Senegal international had another stroke of luck with the rebound off the post.

Both sides had chances, including Ansu Fati setting up Tariq Lamptey in a promising position, but his shot went wide of the target.

Towards the end of the match, the fans from both sides expressed their feelings at the broken nature of the play. There was at least two minutes without any ball being kicked, first for an injury, and then for substitutions.

Overall it was an entertaining contest, even if quality was lacking in the final third, 27 fouls tells its own, more telling story, but Johnson and Son linked up for a final moment of inspiration to secure the win for the side who topped the Premier League table earlier in the season.

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