Photo: Paul Hazlewood
Brighton 3 – Brentford 0
Brighton welcomed Brentford to the Amex midway through their run of three consecutive home games, after securing a vital three points last weekend by eventually grinding down a resolute Huddersfield town.
Visiting Brentford have battled through a tumultuous first half of the season, with Dean Smith their third manager in just six months; but their form has evened out, and the West London side sat pretty in 10th place coming into the floodlit tie.
The teams’ respective seasons may well be defined by their activity in January’s transfer market: Albion attracted a glut of Premier League talent, while the Bees lost powerful centre back James Tarkowski to Burney for an estimated 3 million, which has the potential to double over time; much to the horror of Oldham Athletic, who misguidedly bought out his sell-on clause just months before the transfer.
That being said, Brentford’s strength lies in their almost endless list of injury recoverees, and holding onto midfield maestro Alan Judge can certainly be considered a shrewd piece of positive business.
However, Albion’s staggeringly strong bench of Wilson, Lualua and Sidwell could be the difference between not just these sides, but promotion and Championship stagnation.
Brighton almost strode ahead in the 2nd minute, their now trademark one touch football carving Brentford apart, but Knockaert could only scramble an effort past the post, and Judge equalled the shots off target stats just seconds later, firing over a fierce shot after a confident run at the Albion defence.
A stunning run by Knockaert again undermined the open Bees defence, as he jinked past three lacklustre challenges before seeing a low shot deflected for a corner.
Judge was dictating Brentford’s forward motion, forcing Stockdale into a sharp reaction save after excellent work from Vibe on the right wing.
A sprawling first ten minutes somehow yielded no goals, and Brentford’s slick attacks increased in pace and intensity as they searched for the opener; La Liga-esque interplay from Judge and Bidwell on the left wing proving particularly troublesome for a static Albion defence.
Brighton, however, almost snatched the lead; a hanging Murphey cross found Bruno, whose crisply struck volley was parried onto the bar by Dean, much to the home fans’ disbelief.
Yet Brentford didn’t learn their lesson, again giving Murphy too much space on the wing, and he eventually found livewire Knockaert, who nurtured an inch of space and duly struck the ball low past Button into the bottom corner.
Seconds later Hemed almost doubled Albion’s lead, but he could only find the side netting; a chance which could have proved the cliché of costly.
A thunderous first half descended into scrappy squabbling between both sides, as set pieces were disputed and needless fouls became more frequent; quality dropping in tandem with the temperature. But a touch of class put Brighton two up before the break, a pinpoint Kayal cross effortlessly dispatched by Hemed, his header gliding past a motionless Button.
Murphy nearly grabbed a goal of his own straight after the break when Wilson, a half-time sub for Zamora, outpaced a laboured Dean to square, yet he leaned back and sent the shot spiralling into the upper reaches of the stand.
Brighton picked up where they left off, utilizing the long ball in an attempt to target Brentford’s crumbling offside trap, Hemed volleying over after a stunning piece of control from the dynamic Murphy on the right wing.
Brentford inevitably pressed, Dean Smith making an attacking double substitution to try and galvanise a somewhat lethargic midfield, but they couldn’t regain the momentum which had so nearly blown Albion away in the opening ten minutes.
Steve Sidwell came on to the delight of the Albion faithful, thirteen years after his last appearance for the club, and he almost had a glorious comeback goal; the ball not quite falling for him after yet another scintillating run by Murphy caused mayhem in the visitor’s box.
Brentford’s brand of precise counter-attacking football was put the sword under the glimmering Amex lights, and Wilson should have added gloss numerous times, but he was never quite sharp enough to capitalise on a creaking defence.
In the end, there was only one player who deserved the game’s cherry, and when Murphy latched onto a through ball there was no doubting the outcome.
24,000 Albion fans jubilantly celebrated his composed finish, which saw the Seagulls soar to third, while Brentford were left rueing a deficit of any real coherence.
Albion take on Bolton this coming weekend at the Amex (Saturday 3pm) and excellently priced student tickets are available; come on down and witness Brighton’s thrilling promotion push!
Glenn Houlihan at The Amex