Things were beginning to look bleak for Brighton, and with fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool on the near horizon, the south-coast club were unfancied on the bet exchange and fans were beginning to fear the worst. But a few days later, the sun was shining brightly on the Seagulls as successive victories and clean sheets brought six points from two hugely challenging matches.
The win against Spurs saw Brighton come up against a team bereft of confidence having lost the winning habit under José Mourinho. Tottenham gave a lifeless, insipid performance, and Brighton’s 1-0 victory flattered the visitors. It was exactly the kind of performance Graham Potter would have wanted to kick-start his side’s season, with Leandro Trossard’s neat first-half finish giving Brighton the win.
It had seemed unlikely that a similar result would follow at Anfield against the champions, but Potter got his tactics spot on, capitalising on a meek, tired Liverpool performance to seal another 1-0 victory. Steven Alzate was the man who earned the three points for Brighton this time, and although there was an element of fortune over the goal, Liverpool deserved nothing from the match.
With a healthy 10-point buffer now separating Brighton from 18th-placed Fulham, their supporters can breathe a bit easier, and Potter can concentrate his efforts on climbing up the table. While it’s fair to say that there is a bit more depth to the team’s tactical nous since Potter took over from Chris Hughton, sustained progress has evaded the club as of yet. In this season where the table is so tight, it could be a great opportunity for Brighton to earn a stronger finish come the end of the season.
But the problem for Potter throughout his tenure has been consistency. For every good run of two or three results that Brighton put together, they always end up squandering their progress with defeats in matches they should really have won. The Seagulls have been lucky in that Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Fulham have struggled so badly this season, leaving a bit of a gap between the relegation-threatened trio and those just above them.
Hope for Potter and Brighton’s supporters that these latest good results will herald more consistency springs from the contrast between the two performances against Tottenham and Liverpool respectively. In defeating Spurs, Brighton gave a fine attacking display, taking the game to their opponents with crisp passing, neat interchanges, and a desire to get players into the box. It was a dominant display, and one that showcased just how well Brighton can play when they’re firing on all cylinders.
However, against Liverpool, Potter reigned it all in. It would have been easy to go out with the same mentality given the confidence coursing through the team, but instead Brighton were measured, pragmatic, and took little risks in possession. The tactics worked to perfection, as Liverpool huffed and puffed but failed to breach Brighton’s five-man defence. The aim was always to try and nick a goal after settling into the match, and that’s exactly what Potter’s side did in the second half through Alzate’s winner.
Nobody will be getting ahead of themselves at Brighton. After all, they’ve been here before and seen the feel-good factor melt away like ice-creams in the south-coast sun. But in these two fine victories there were signs that Potter is continuing to develop as a coach, and the uncharted road that both club and manger find themselves on could yet lead to real success for Brighton.