Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Brighton vs Crystal Palace: What went wrong?

It was the game we had all been waiting for. Now it is the game we all cannot wait to forget.

The team we love to hate made the short (but fairly long for a derby) trip down to the south coast and comprehensively outplayed us for 70 minutes of the 90.

Not only that, but they outfought and outworked us as well. In every single area, Palace took the bragging rights.

But what went wrong? Lets take a closer look...

1. Glenn Murray. Let's face it - he was always going to score. But by the time he found the net the game was over as a contest. Far more impressive was the way he linked up with Sean Scannell and led the line perfectly - as he did so many times in the stripes. Craig Mackail-Smith is a superb player and a great signing, but he is not someone you can afford to leave isolated up top on his own in the way you could with Murray. He will run and run, but he will struggle to hold the ball up, hold defenders off and give the back four some breathing space and the team some much-needed field position. With our backs to the wall for so long last night, the Albion were crying out for a forward like Murray. Which leads us to...

2. The way we use Mackail-Smith If last night showed one thing it is that Mackail-Smith needs someone alongside him. When we have the lion's share of possession, the two wide players in a front three works. When we come up against a team as good, or better than us though, Mackail-Smith is left ploughing a lone furrow. He is someone who thrives on through balls, flick ons, and operating on the last shoulder of the centre backs. Leaving him on his own, against two bigger defenders and with his back to goal on the halfway line is, quite frankly, a waste of £2million plus.

3. No Plan B No, not that failed rapper turned questionable pop star, although I suppose had he been sat in the North Stand he may have at least sang a couple of songs. Gus Poyet talks of the Brighton Brand as far as our footballing style goes and 99 per cent of fans have welcomed this. But, it is fair to say, we are not Barcelona. And, perhaps more importantly, we are no longer playing Orient and Yeovil ever week. Teams this season have cottoned on to our style of play and started pressing us higher up the pitch, isolating our central defenders in possession and forcing them to play balls they are not comfortable / capable of playing. Once this happens, we lose the ball too often and more often than not in our own half. Teams are getting about us and disrupting our style. This is when we need to react. Seeing how overwhelmed we were last night, we could have and should have changed tactics. Even a switch to 442, with Craig Noone and Ryan Harley out wide and Barnes partnering Mackail-Smith would have made us harder to pass through.

4. Substitutions Someone near me in the West Stand Upper made the point that by playing Mauricio Taricco we had essentially wasted a sub because he would not complete 90 minutes. As it is, it probably would not have mattered. Poyet, for all his positives, seems to still be learning when it comes to game-changing substitutions. Bringing Noone off for Kazenga Lua Lua did nothing to change the shape which was so clearly proving our undoing. Neither did the straight swap between Harley and Vicente. Why not introduce Romain Vincelot alongside Liam Bridcutt to add more bite? Why not bring on Will Hoskins for Barnes and play him up top with Mackail-Smith. Dougie Freedman got his tactics spot on. Poyet didn't. Even at the second attempt.

5. Players not up to Championship? As big a fan as I was of Marcos Painter last season, he seems to be struggling at this level. The only thing he succeeded in doing last night was getting Lewis Dunk booked with a hospital pass. Solid defensively last season, he is being tested far more this term and looks a yard or two too slow for the trickier wingers. Add to that the lack of cover he benefits from in our 433 formation and it could be a tough season for Painter. Not that he is the only one. Taricco, while not terrible, should be nowhere near a Championship starting 11 and Casper Ankergren will no doubt come under added pressure over the next few fixtures after unconvincing recent displays. Swansea were in the same boat as us when they allowed Painter to leave. Leeds the same when they released Ankergren. Alongside the likes of Gary Dicker (brilliant on the ball, terrible without it) we might be learning that the players who get you up are not necessarily the same ones who keep you there / push you on to the next stage.

6. Lack of fight The most unforgivable of last night's problems. Crystal Palace simply wanted it more. They worked harder, tackled harder and ran harder than the Albion. Fans can take defeat, but a lack of effort is far harder to swallow. Perhaps indidicative of the more attractive style of play we favour, but the lack of fight in the Albion players last night was nothing short of a disgrace.

7. Too many games As frustrating as last night was for the fans, the players were not all to blame. The fixture list, favouring Liverpool over us as it did last week, also played its part. Two games in 48 hours last week cannot have helped and quite a few players who you would normally count on to put the work in, like Ashley Barnes, looked out on their feet.

8. The fans Fortress Amex? Not likely. Obviously there is the argument that the players need to inspire the fans but for this game the only inspiration needed to transform the Amex into a bowl of noise is the fact that it was Palace we were playing. For so many people to leave at 2v1 is shameful and does nothing to dispel the suspicions of Johnny Come Latelies and bandwagon jumpery. I only wish the club could clock people out of the turnstiles as well as in. That way anyone who left early could have 100 loyalty points taken away. This club has been built on facing adversity. Not leaving early to get to the front of the bus line. The sooner some people realise that the better.

I could go on. But it was only one game. There is always Ipswich away to start putting things right. And, despite the above, I still have faith we will secure a top ten finish, which whatever some far-too-carried-away Albionites might say, will be a good season.

Just why oh why did it have to be THAT game?

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