The highs of the previous week against Arsenal were followed by huge disappointment as we lost 3-1 against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
Expectations were high as we thought manager Gus Poyet had found the second of the two missing pieces in the Albion jigsaw. First he had captured Leo Ulloa, the 6ft 2in striker who proved himself at the Amex against the Gunners, and then at the 11th hour, as the January window was closing, he signed Matthew Upson from Stoke on loan until the end of the season. This ex-England international plugged the central defender gap left by injured Gordon Greer and Lewis Dunk (absent on a court case).
The fact that it didn’t come good against Wednesday wasn’t the fault of the two new players. With Wayne Bridge at left-back we have re-united two England internationals.
Ashley Barnes isn’t liked by all Seagulls’ fans. Recently he has won many over with his work ethic and vital goals. I’m afraid he didn’t gain any friends on Saturday. Temperament has been an issue and even before he made a reckless challenge he was walking a tightrope. It snapped after just 30 minutes and with the assistant ref’s help, he picked up a straight red. As the resulting free-kick resulted in the Owls’ second goal, it was effectively game lost.
Brighton made the worse possible start. In the fifth minute Leroy Lita guided home a far post cross with his head for 1-0.
There followed an encouraging spell for the Albion, playing in their very bright green kit with black stripes. Wednesday were the ones with the blue and white striped shirts.
Ulloa went close but was denied by a good save from Chris Kirkland. Then Barnes saw red and we failed to defend the free-kick, allowing Danny Pugh to score in a goalmouth melee.
Poyet is always prepared to use his substitutes in an attempt to change things. At half-time he surprisingly took off Liam Bridcutt, our lively midfielder, and replaced him with speedy striker Craig Mackail-Smith. This gave our 10-man team impetus and led to a goal. CMS beat his man on a run down the right and his cross found its way back to Andrea Orlandi, who smashed a low shot into the net. At 2-1, despite being a man short, we were back in the game.
The home fans were quietened – but not for long. Within two minutes Tomasz Kuszczak failed to get a hand to a corner and Antonio bundled the ball in for 3-1.
The Owls didn’t score again but our depleted Seagulls couldn’t either. The horrible Seagulls’ statistic from Hillsborough is played 12 and no wins. That is lost 6, drawn 6.
Although Wednesday are below us in the Championship, they have been on a good run of form lately under Dave Jones. So our loss won’t come as a huge surprise but it is an upset for us as we drop back to eighth, still five points away from Middlesbrough who are sixth in the last the play-off positions. The gap is starting to look difficult to make up.
So it was an unsatisfactory Saturday although Poyet remained sanguine and philosophical after the game. He accepted the Barnes red card but did question the consistency of the officials’ decisions.
Inigo Calderon suffered a lunging tackle similar to that made by Barnes but the perpetrator only picked up a yellow. Then the two benches got involved in minor scuffles ending with Albion assistant Charlie Oatway and Owls’ manager Jones being sent to the stands.
Poyet remained creditably calm but did say Charlie hadn’t done anything wrong. Jones said it was a kerfuffle and only handbags stuff. If I understood our Uruguayan manager’s post-match summary he suggested that if we were a bigger club the decisions that went against us could have been different. Was he suggesting it wouldn’t happen to say, Manchester United – surely not?
It’s back to the Amex on Saturday for the visit of Hull (5.20pm – it’s on TV). This will be a true test. City are third in the league and a win is essential to keep promotion hopes alive.