Brighton’s poor league form continued on Saturday as they were thrashed by Burnley at the Amex, given the Clarets a new club record of seven consecutive league matches without defeat.
Early pressure from Brighton was well contained by Burnley’s Tom Heaton and efforts from Solly March and Pascal Groß were rendered harmless by the Englishman’s impressive work in goal. Chris Wood would later punish Brighton for their unpolished finishing by scoring a goal in the first half, followed by his brace in the second.
With Solly March subbed out in the second half due to injury, the Seagull’s struggled to respond. That task was made even more difficult for the home team as they were denied a clear penalty in the second half after a Burnley player handled the ball in the area. The penalty claim was waved away allowing Burnley to break and earn a penalty of their own, effectively sinking any hope of a comeback for Chris Hughton’s men.
Brighton responded to Ashely Barnes’ late penalty with a brilliant headed goal by Shane Duffy, but the effort was not enough to save the Seagulls.
Tom Heaton the key to Burnley’s recent form
There are certain players that make a team better not only through their play but also through their presence. Tom Heaton looks to be one of those players at the minute as his reintroduction into this Burnley squad has revitalised the entire team.
What was once an extremely unorganized and porous back line has improved massively, allowing the Clarets to focus their efforts on scoring goals, which they have duly done. This unbeaten run was not just due to a sudden realisation from Dyche that his team could be playing Championship football next season, rather the improvements have been sparked by leadership and determination on the pitch from players like Heaton.
At first glance, Joe Hart and Heaton would appear to be level as far as ability is concerned, but with the Claret’s most recent results it’s apparent Heaton adds something his compatriot cannot. With the veteran keeper in goal, Dyche and his men look likely to escape relegation and have transformed their defensive fortunes as of late.
Chris Hughton: too many excuses
Yes, Brighton were robbed at the Amex. No, they did not deserve to win. What happened to Brighton was unfortunate and showcases the need for VAR, but Hughton should not fool himself into thinking his team could have beat Burnley after Chris Wood’s brace.
It is a manager’s job, of course, to remain positive and encourage his team, but Hughton must be honest with himself and realise how awful his team have been recently. Indeed, the Seagull’s sit a mere three points above the relegation zone after this loss and results have to change sooner rather than later for Hughton’s men.
The Englishman can comfort himself by convincing himself this poor form is nothing more than bad luck, but what his team really need is to find the type of resolve that is saving Burnley from relegation. Excuses regarding VAR and match officials’ decisions are part of the game, but Hughton should not use these factors as a crutch because if relegation does come, appeals about “that referee call” will not save them.
Burnley aren’t out of the woods yet
Burnley should be applauding themselves after climbing out of the bottom three of the table but should be careful not to grow overconfident as relegation could come knocking once again. Their next match against Tottenham will be a real test of their character and skill and a loss against the Lilywhites could see them drifting back down into the bottom three.
Indeed, nothing is secure for Dyche at the moment, a fact he surely realizes. Nevertheless, the team have improved massively and the return of New Zealander, Chris Wood, has Burnely finding the back of the net once again.
With the Claret’s surprising everyone by finising in 7th place last season, it would be no surprise to see them pull off the spectacular and speed away from the bottom three after such drastic improvements in recent matches. Indeed, they are more than capable, but they must not allow their positive run of form to fool them into a false sense of security.
Relegation a possibility for the Seagulls
At the end of last year, Brighton were looking impressive, climbing the table and crafting a different future for their team. All of this has fallen apart now though and the swift and unforgiving nature of the Premier League has once again mired down the Seagulls.
Fans were overjoyed at the fact Brighton were beating the likes of Wolves, Crystal Palace and Everton earlier in the season. Those victories seemed to show that Hughton and Brighton were ready for something more than just a constant fight against relegation. Skill and charisma from players like Duffy, Dunk and Murray encouraged and entertained.
Stubbornness from Hughton, lack of resolve from players, and mistakes from the back line have undone all of the positives however and the Seagulls look set for another nervous finish to their season. Better fixtures are coming for Brighton, but they are better only on paper and with the dismal form the team is in there is no telling if the Seagull’s will be able to capitalize on this opportunity.