Brighton 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday: Five Things We Learnt

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Brighton celebrate Knockaert’s winner – mirror.co.uk

A dramatic encounter at the AMEX on Friday night saw Brighton go top of the league with a 2-1 win over play-off contenders Sheffield Wednesday. But what have we learnt from the game?

Strong spirit at Brighton

Brighton this season are the football equivalent of Indiana Jones: even when things don’t appear well, onlookers retain an inner confidence that they will pull through. Midway through the first half, Brighton dangerously gave the ball away to Adam Reach, Sheffield Wednesday’s brightest attacking player who tested David Stockdale for the first time. That shot sparked the away side’s first spell of pressure, which required alleviation in the form of an Oliver Norwood challenge, before the ball found Tomer Hemed who set up eventual goalscorer Anthony Knockaert. The Frenchman’s first touch was not the best but Keiren Westwood’s misjudged sprawl saw him ride his luck and the winger showed composure to finish. To come, there would be more dramatic examples of the brave Seagulls escaping the temple of doom.

Fessie not the same player

Fernando Forestieri looks a completely different footballer to the one that lit up the Championship last season. Just before half-time, he put in a decent cross that led to Sheffield Wednesday’s equalizer, but not without fortune. En route the net, his cross took deflections off two Brighton players, Norwood and then Lewis Dunk, the latter otherwise imperious at centre-back alongside Shane Duffy. If Fessie was constantly making runs and putting in crosses, one might suggest he had made his own luck, yet this was not the case. The Argentine’s poor penalty, then his re-bounded effort that saw a double save from David Stockdale, compounded a poor performance in which he looked sluggish and distant from the action. Compare that with Brighton’s most technically gifted player, Anthony Knockaert and we can see a big difference in work ethic. As well as his two goals and capacity to carry the ball up the pitch, he tracked back and helped out Connor Goldson, who was forced to play in an unnatural right-back position. If Forestieri wants to get his career back on the right track, he has to work for the team.

Wednesday’s lack of drive

Sam Winnall’s success at Barnsley came from his capacity to win early balls and quickly get a shot away, or bring midfielders into play. However, Sheffield Wednesday’s build-up consisted of slow, sideways passes and aimless punts upfield, which made the striker’s battles with Brighton’s defence difficult. Barry Bannan was one of the few to dribble forward and shift the ball at pace while Reach put in some good crosses, but their attitude was not matched by that of their teammates. The Owls have an expensive squad, but there is a worrying sense that they are waiting for the quality to shine through, rather than making it happen.

Hemed stepped up

Sam Baldock and Glenn Murray has been Brighton’s first choice strike partnership so far. With the former out injured and the latter now suspended after his clumsy handball, Hemed could be the key to Brighton’s next few games. This was not the type of match for a target man have lots of the ball in the final third, but he was productive with the service he was given. The Israeli held the ball up and supported Knockaert on numerous occasions, then provided a decoy run for the latter to tap home at the back-post from Sebastien Pocognoli’s delicious cross. His performance will be a source of encouragement for Chris Hughton, who now has limited alternative options up top.

A defining moment?

The fact Sheffield Wednesday were level on 64 minutes, gained a man advantage, missed a penalty and still conspired to lose the game whilst getting two men sent off late on says a lot. Instead of taking Murray’s dismissal as the chance to turn the screw, Carlos Carvalhal’s side showed their opponents too much respect. In a surprisingly honest post-match interview with Football Heaven, Tom Lees suggested this result shows a certain mental fragility in the group that the top teams do not have. Likewise, beating a top six side in such circumstances adds to the growing sense that, after years of play-off heartache, this will be the season Brighton discover their lost ark.