Brighton & Hove Albion 2 – Huddersfield 1
Brighton welcomed Huddersfield to the Amex in conditions worthy of a Victorian novel, an unbroken grey cloud blanketing the stadium; and the football initially mirrored the weather before growing into an intriguing encounter between two well matched teams.
Brighton came into the game on the back of a 1-0 win at Blackburn, which had ended a dismal run of four straight losses, while Huddersfield have recently swung from the magnificent to the disappointing; battering beleaguered Charlton 5-0 at home yet tumbling out of the FA cup last weekend in a 5-2 loss against fellow Championship side Reading.
Both teams seemed comfortable to knock the ball along the back four, patiently acclimatising into the game with a series of smooth, smart passes as the tempo gradually increased.
Dale Stevens had the first clear sight of goal, shooting over from a 25 yard free kick after Huddersfield captain Hudson earned himself an early yellow for a clumsy challenge.
The away side almost forged ahead in the 7th minute, but Jamie Murphy was in the right place to clear off the line, and Smith could only find the side netting in the ensuing pressure.
Bruno marauding up the wing was Brighton’s most consistent threat, but Huddersfield looked the more adventurous side, with some crisp midfield interchanges causing the home team some serious problems.
Yet neither side could find a regular rhythm, and the game became increasingly locked into the middle third, as attack after attack fizzled out in unspectacular fashion.
Murphy was again instrumental for Brighton, this time at the other end of the field as his low cross fell agonisingly short of the onrushing Zamora.
Forward Nahki Wells looked the part for Huddersfield, teasing the Brighton defence with his effective blend of pace and raw aggression, but his game was undermined by some wild shooting in the penalty area.
Brighton eventually broke the deadlock in sensational style: a thundering break away move was beautifully tucked away by Zamora with a one touch finish after an inch perfect cross by Anthony Knockaert.
Brighton almost doubled their lead through another flowing team move, with the Amex beginning to resemble the Nou Camp, but its complexity proved their downfall as one pass too many and a dubious off-side call drew the fluidity to an abrupt halt.
All Albion’s quality was rendered inane when Huddersfield equalised on the stroke of half-time, Harry Bunn converting a classy Smith cross with firm conviction, silencing the hitherto noisy home fans.
The second half spluttered along in a sequence of misplaced passes by both teams, as play again became entrenched in midfield.
Knockaert’s curling free kick nearly restored Brighton’s lead, just clipping the wrong side of the woodwork; Huddersfield keeper Steer tangling with the netting in his misjudged attempt to palm it away. This acted as the game’s volta, and the final 30 minutes sparked into an intense battle for supremacy, with half chances flying in at both ends.
Kazenaga LuaLua’s return from injury garnered the crowd reaction Brighton needed, and they pressed for their second, which James Wilson soon found – a deft header rippling into the net after another excellent cross from the impressive Knockaert.
The closing stages were fast and furious, with both defences stretched to bursting point to accommodate a flurry of late aggression.
Brighton sat deep with confidence, inviting Huddersfield pressure and waiting for the decisive counter that would settle the tie.
Huddersfield’s Smith was duly sent off after dragging down the vibrant LuaLua and Crofts bent one just past the post, but the third never arrived, and Brighton held onto their slender lead to send the home fans home happy and retain their place in the play-off positions, and therefore still firmly in this season’s thrilling promotion mix.
Don’t forget, Albion are running a student special for this coming term: three home matches and an official Brighton and Hove Albion home shirt for just £50!
Glenn Houlihan at The Amex