Football is finally back. After a long three months away, the moment all Brighton fans had been waiting for – a Capital One Cup tie away to Swindon.
OK, it was hardly a glamour tie but expectations this season among Albion fans is high. With the AMEX Stadium’s capacity having been expanded to 30,000 after just one season and the likes of Wayne Bridge, Tomaz Kuszczak and Bruno joining the squad over the summer, reaching the dizzying heights of the Premier League could just be a matter of time.
However, it was not the best of starts to the new season. The last time Brighton played Swindon in the opening game of the season, the Seagulls won the league. This time round though, Swindon had a bright new manager in Paolo Di Canio and a new sense of belief and ambition which at the end of the day was more than a lacklustre Brighton side had to offer.
The Seagulls dominated the first half but lacked the end product to create an opportunity, and the Robins were well organised and solid at the back. Ashley Barnes had a chance early on from a tight angle but his header hit the outside of the post and went wide. Summer signing Bruno, a free transfer after being released by Valencia, tried his luck from range with a powerful right foot drive, but the Swindon keeper Wes Foderingham was able to dive low and parry the ball away to safety.
Arguably the best player in the Championship, Vicente Rodriguez was his usual self. He influenced nearly all of Brighton’s attacking moves and created a great chance for Barnes just before the break. A trademark run took him past several mesmerised Swindon players before crossing the ball to Barnes, whose low foot shot was saved well by Foderingham.
In the second half, Swindon came out looking like a different team and after just 8 minutes they converted their first chance of the game. Former Brighton player Alan Navarro set up former Charlton striker Benson with an easy poke past Kuszczak. The Polish keeper’s first job of the game was to pick the ball out of the back of the net.
Brighton looked to respond quickly. Craig Noone burst down the left wing and smartly picked out Vicente in the box. The Spaniard showed his class to turn and hammer the ball towards goal but Foderingham was in inspired form and got down quickly to keep his clean sheet intact.
Navarro, who scored once in a 3-year spell with the Seagulls, then opened his Swindon account after good work from Andy Williams on the left wing. Williams’ clever step inside gave him the space to pick out the perfect pass for Navarro who was bursting into the penalty area. Navarro then smashed the ball passed a helpless Kuszczak to ensure his former club had a mountain to climb.
Navarro then struck again 15 minutes from time. A hoof upfield from Foderingham was flicked on by Williams to set up Navarro, whose shot took a deflection off Inigo Calderon and past a wrong-footed Kuszczak. Navarro was then substituted to a standing ovation from Swindon and Brighton fans alike. Many Brighton fans questioned why he was released at the end of last season after he was a regular in the squad. Those questions will surely now come up again.
Let’s hope that Poyet wasn’t taking the COCup seriously, and the team can produce better things on Saturday in the opening league match away to Hull. Craig Mackail-Smith, Will Buckley and Kazenga LuaLua should be fit and will be able to add extra attacking power. Midfield maestro Andrew Crofts will also be up for selection once more at the KC Stadium after missing the trip to Swindon due to international commitments with Wales.
Swindon: Foderingham, Archibald-Henville, McEveley, Devera, Navarro (Ferry 82), Ritchie, McCormack, Miller, Benson (Storey 89), A Williams, De Vita (Rooney 87). Unused subs: Bedwell, Flint, Thompson, Risser.
Brighton: Kuszczak, Bruno, Greer, Dunk, Bridge, Noone, Vicente, Harley (Calderon 56), Dicker (Agdestein 66), Bridcutt, Barnes. Unused subs: Ankergren, El-Abd, Painter, Dickenson, Oatway.