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Match Report: Middlesbrough 1 - 0 Brighton (Brighton Fan's Perspective)

By Andy
Saturday 10th December 2011
A last gasp Will Buckley goal gave the Seagulls a 1-0 win over stuttering Nottingham Forest last week. Now, a 600 mile round trip to Middlesbrough was the task in hand with Brighton aiming for a fourth straight win against a Middlesbrough team who have avoided defeat in 5 of their last 6 matches. Middlesbrough also boasted a 50% win success rate against Brighton having won 15, drawn 8 and lost 7 of the sides' previous 30 meetings.

One of Brighton's more surprising summer signings former Valencia and Spain winger Vicente Rodriguez was still not in the 16 man squad. Many fans are becoming frustrated with his lack of involvement, with some even wondering if he will still be a Brighton player when it comes towards the end of the season.

With usual full backs Marcos Painter and Inigo Calderon injured and suspended respectively, on-loan West Brom full back Jara Reyes made his first start of the season at right back after a persistent injury, and 38 year old assistant manager Mauricio Tarrico returned to the starting line up. Kazenga Lualua, celebrating his 21st birthday, made his first start after signing a permanent contract last month. His explosive speed and power played a big part in the first half of the Seagulls League One winning campaign last season before breaking a leg at Hartlepool.

Gus Poyet admitted before the game that Albion were not performing to their best, pointing out how evenly matched the Championship is this season, with lower teams capable of beating sides at the top. He also claimed he is convinced Middlesbrough will finish in the top six this season.

The match got underway with a bright start from Middlesbrough forcing several early corners but Brighton were able to hold off the persistent attack by closing down well, the back four solid as ever. After 10 minutes, Albion were beginning to get forward, Craig Noone's left food curler going wide and birthday boy Lualua cutting in from the left and hitting the post with a powerful right footed drive.

The match then settled down into what seemed an evenly matched game with both defences holding up well, blocking and clearing shots. Middlesbrough showed their quality by keeping the ball but were frustrated by Brighton, who continued to force them wide causing poor crosses which were easily defended.

Middlesbrough have kept 9 clean sheets at home this season, and it was showing. Brighton were unable to penetrate and were forced into harmless long shots. The lacklustre first 15 minutes was reflected in the quiet atmosphere at the Riverside Stadium - in his pre-match interview, Boro boss Tony Mowbray tried to encourage more fans to attend games in an attempt to boost the atmosphere and motivate the players as they aim for a promotion push.

After 21 minutes, Middlesbrough's pressure paid off. Once again they were forced wide by the Albion defence, the resulting cross should have been easily caught by Albion keeper Casper Ankergren but he fumbled the ball into the path of Scott McDonald. Ankergren then pulled off a super save but the rebound left McDonald a simple tap-in to make it 1-0.

Brighton immediately looked for a response, pushing forward with LuaLua and Noone cutting in from out wide onto their favoured right and left foots but nothing came from their efforts and Middlesbrough were able to break.

Shot after shot was blocked and Brighton's captain, Gordon Greer, was leading by example organising the back four to successfully defend several corners. Brighton's best chance came on the half hour mark, a free kick crossed in well by Lualua wasn't quite reached by record signing Craig Mackail-Smith and in the end the Middlesbrough keeper was able to catch the ball easily. Albion piled on the pressure but Middlesbrough didn't budge. Noone's header from a well-taken corner went wide, and a long-range shot from Mackail-Smith went harmlessly over the bar.

The second half started well with Lualua winning a corner after a good run down the wing, and Greer should have done better with a free header. Albion's wingers continued to make good runs but there was no end product and Middlesbrough defended well. 70 minutes into the match and Brighton's poor disciplinary record was clear to see with 4 players in the book. Although not normally known as a dirty side, a few poor tackles had let them down.

Middlesbrough's best chance of the second half came from a free kick ten yards out from the box, a powerful header going over the bar should have doubled the lead. As the temperature dropped, the atmosphere in the stadium increased with Albion fans urging their team forward and Middlesbrough fans praising their teams defending and counter attacking.

A 5 minute period of Middlesbrough pressure thankfully came to nothing. Ankergren weakly punched away a free kick with a resulting header going wide. The versatile Romain Vancelot showed his defensive qualities with 3 consecutive clearances sparing Brighton's blushes. Poyet then made a double substitution, bringing on strikers Ashley Barnes and Billy Paynter. Although their poor run of form continued as both were unable to get a shot on target.

The last few minutes were tense as 5 minutes of added time were shown. An Albion counter attack should have lead to a goal but for a wasteful header from unmarked Ashley Barnes, but Middlesbrough responded with 3 shots from goalscorer McDonald which came to nothing.

The full time whistle came leaving the 679 travelling fans nothing to celebrate on the 300 mile trip back down to Sussex. There were few positives to take from this match. Ankergren looked nervous in goal and the lack of shots on target is a serious problem. Mackail-Smith was unstoppable for Peterborough last season, netting more than 30 goals in all competitions. He scores from good deliveries but he simply isn't getting them.

Hopefully, once Vicente is fit enough Albion fans will have more to cheer about as his quality has shown in the few games he has played in. The positives are that Lualua seems to be finding his form once more. His mazy runs down the left wing tormented the Middlesbrough defence and it is surely only a matter of time until he is scoring similar goals similar to last season's powerful free kick against MK Dons which the cameraman had a hard time keeping up with.

After a stunning start to the season, then a woeful dip in form, the Seagulls are beginning to find their feet again with four wins in their last six. But if they want to have any chance of a play-off push, they need to start winning games against teams in the top-half of the table. We all knew this division was going to be tough, but Poyet has worked wonders with a team used to relegation scraps in the past few years. Things can only get better for Brighton.

Middlesbrough – Steele; Bennett, Bates, Williams, McMahon; Zemmama (Martin 32), Bailey, Robson, Arca; McDonald, Emnes. Unused subs: Hoyte, Thompson, Martin, Haroun, Ogbeche.

Goals: McDonald (21)

Brighton: Ankergren; Jara Reyes, Greer, Dunk, Tarrico; Bridcutt, Vincelot, Sparrow (Buckley 63), Noone (Paynter 74), Lualua; Mackail-Smith (Barnes 74). Unused subs: Brezovan, El-Abd

Total articles: 27

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