Saturday 28th December 2019 – Seagulls begin to fly under Graham Potter’s adventurous management.

The last time MAE wrote about Brighton and Hove Albion was following the Seagulls’ trip to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-final in April. While appreciating the efforts they made that day he also expressed some trepidation as to what the rest of the season might hold with relegation looming. Well the good news was that they managed to stay in the Premiership (just). Despite staying up the club sacked manager Chris Hughton (who had taken them to the top flight in 2017) following only 3 wins in the last 18 games. His replacement was Graham Potter who was managing Swansea in the Championship, having previously taken Swedish side Ostersund to the EUFA Europa Cup knock out stages. MAE was disparaging of the defensive style of play latterly under Hughton, even when behind, and the players inability to play a passing game. Potter is known for his unconventional coaching methods including getting his teams to perform in local community theatrical productions (!), and for playing at least three different systems in one match. The passing game is central to his style, keeping possession and building up attacks gradually from the back. This all sounds good on paper. Obviously the key point is, is it working?

Well judging by this game and matches seen on the television, the answer is a qualified yes. (The MAEs had hoped to attend two earlier games but, for various reasons, they didn’t). As well as his refreshing tactical innovations which allow the possibility of regular goal scoring Potter started by revivifying his squad during summer transfer window. Out on loan went Anthony Knockaert, Jurgen Locadia, and Florin Andone, all of whom had good points but certainly lacked inspiration in the second half of last season. In came winger Leandro Trossard from top Belgian side Genk for £15m, French forward Neal Maupay (£20m) after an impressive 2 year spell at Brentwood, and, perhaps best of all on this showing, Australian mid-fielder Aaron Mooy, on loan from Huddersfield who were relegated to the Championship at the end of last season. Huddersfield said that Mooy wanted to stay at the top level and they didn’t want a potentially unhappy player in their squad. It may be of course that they were no longer able to pay his wages. Either way Brighton seem to have benefitted.

As the game was a 12.30 kick off the MAEs were on the 11.10 train from Eastbourne to Falmer – crowded but not uncomfortable. Early kick-offs lead to the question of when to eat. Too early for our traditional Singapore Noodles at the excellent Yummy Noodle Bar in the Enterprise Centre, just by Eastbourne Station. We opted for a simple picnic of smoked salmon rolls, pork pie, and Christmas cake – demolished with gusto at half time.

As for the match, Bournemouth struggled from the start with seven or eight key players out. For Brighton Ali Jahanbakhsh scored his first goal in 27 games after precise passes from Mooy and Maupay and burst into tears to show how much it mattered. Mooy’s Man of the Match winning performance was based on superb distribution of passes from midfield began early. For Bournemouth Joshua King was easily the best player, bringing good saves from Mat Ryan. In the 57th minute it seemed as if Dan Burn, Brighton’s surprisingly mobile 6ft 7in full back, had scored his first goal for the Seagulls, only for it to be ruled out by VAR (Video Assistant Referee). This was MAE’s first live experience of VAR and he was not impressed. The whole crowd is kept waiting whilst a decision is made many miles away without being allowed to see a replay themselves. In the Rugby Union TMO (Television Match Official) system the referee and the crowd watch a replay of events on the stadium big screen. Rugby crowds have supporters of both sides intermingled and the reviews cause no trouble. I know that there is a history of crowd violence in football but given that home and away supporters are strictly segregated I can’t see that watching replays of marginal decisions should be a problem. The referee could then decide for himself. Few of them now take advantage of the possibility of watching on a screen at the side of the pitch, instead accepting the judgement made in in the VAR room in west London. VAR was introduced to correct “clear and obvious errors” but seems to be being used to change the referee and his assistants’ decisions in the most marginal of circumstances, sometimes after lengthy periods of waiting. What is perhaps needed is some form of “referee’s call” like the “umpire’s call” used in cricket. Certainly something must be done, as Edward VIII, as Prince of Wales, said on quite a different matter.

No matter. Brighton were soon back on the attack with Bissouma hitting the post in the 63rd minute. Then in the 78th minute Mooy took an excellent assist from Trossard onto his chest and shifted the ball onto his right foot for a superbly taken goal. His countryman Mat Ryan ran the length of the pitch to congratulate him.

A promising performance by the Seagulls – a worrying one for the Cherries.

(Was this a false dawn. Bournemouth were, as reported, well below strength. So far in the New Year things have not gone well overall for Brighton. They earned a 1 -1 draw at home to Chelsea on New Year’s Day with Jahanbakhsh scoring a “goal of the season” overhead-kick equaliser. It was probably goal of the decade at the time. Since then they have only got one more point and have gone out of the FA Cup. As I write they are only two points above the relegation zone.)

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