Brighton fans once again left the Amex frustrated after Tony Mowbray’s Middlesbrough team escaped a close-fought contest with all three points.
The Seagulls have now managed just one goal and one point from their last three home matches and have not won in four games since chalking up five maximums in a row last month.
An equal best goal difference in the division is masked by the one-side 5v1 ownership of a Barnsley team which had just one regular first team player in the starting line-up and it is the lack of clinicality in front of goal which continues to cost Gus Poyet’s men dear.
The impressive Marvin Emnes got the game’s only goal on 21 minutes but his shot’s success owed everything to a wicked deflection from the back of Brighton captain Gordon Greer, with Tomasz Kuszsak left helpless in the home goal.
The away team were tactically spot on, with wide players successfully keeping the Albion’s usually rampaging full backs at bay for much of the first half. Middlesbrough also became the latest team to sit back and pack the midfield and by doing so isolate Greer and Adam El Abd in possession. Without the string-pulling Gary Dicker in the middle, the Seagulls were often left devoid of angle changing passing and became fairly easy to syphon into less dangerous positions.
That was not helped by Poyet’s reluctance to start with even one wide player, with both William Buckley – so often the team’s chief attacking threat – and Kazenga Lua Lua restricted to cameos from the bench.
David Lopez exhibited some neat touches but looked every bit a centre midfield player being asked to operate in a wider area than he perhaps is comfortable, while the central trio of Liam Bridcutt, Dean Hammond and Andrew Crofts failed to dovetail successfully. All three are quality players at this level but the lack of creative spark suggests they perhaps overlap too often in their duties.
Brighton did have their chances to score, with Hammond heading over when it looked easier to find the net and Mackail-Smith and Ashley Barnes forcing impressive saves from the visiting keeper Jason Steele.
Poyet’s team have won all five games in which they have opened the scoring but the evidence of the last three home games suggests the manager’s approach is perhaps too linear to open up deep-sitting teams once they have surrendered an early advantage.
Grumbles from the stands are premature. Poyet is still a relatively inexperienced manager learning his trade. The Albion are lucky to have him.
However, Poyet does need to show he is learning from mistakes and the recent starting line-ups at The Amex have appeared to become progressively more negative – down from one winger to none against ‘Boro.
After the match he said he would dip into the loan market if his charges failed to tickle the twine away to Leicester City. With almost a dozen central midfield options but just one stand-out centre forward, it would be a welcome move.
Match rating: Kuszsak 7, Bridge 7, Bruno 7, Greer 6, El Abd 6, Hammond 6, Bridcutt 6, Crofts 6, Barnes 5, Lopez 6, Mackail-Smith 6. Subs: Buckley 6, Lua Lua 6, Dobbie 6.