Town returned from the south coast with a point from a performance which was equal parts encouraging and frustrating.
With both sides struggling in front of goal in recent times – and for the visitors, over a much longer period – it was heart warming for them to gift each other a confidence boost apiece, though Brighton’s failure to profit from poor Town defending after just 30 seconds when Pröpper failed to hit the target when clean through rather set the tone for a lacklustre display by the Seagulls and the day wasn’t going to get any better for the Dutchman.
The miss did set the tone of the game for a while though, with the home side exerting a lot of pressure on the rattled visitors, without Lössl being drawn in to the action. At the other end, a decent Mounié volley was routinely saved by Ryan as the visitors slowly got to grips with Brighton’s initial momentum, and showing significantly more ambition than they had at St James’ Park.
Crucially, Town largely subdued Brighton’s dangerous flanks. Kongolo marshalled Solly March well with help from the hard working Van La Parra who combined his defensive duties with his ability to take the ball up the pitch while on the other side, the returning Hadergjonaj and Ince were defensively disciplined but largely at the expense of genuine attacking threat.
Other than his shift as an auxiliary defender, Ince was almost entirely anonymous and spent most of the afternoon playing backwards. However, Brighton’s left side, with Izquierdo and Bong, always carried greater pace and threat and quelling them was a significant contribution to the eventual point.
Having survived the Seagulls’ initial flurry, Town assumed a level of control which saw them raid with more intent than most games on the road this season which brought Pritchard in to play. The ex-Spurs man, pilloried by the home support for having the temerity to turn them down in the summer, had his most effective game for the Terriers to date – he buzzed around with energy, a great touch and incision for most of the contest.
With Mooy finally finding something of a return to form, the visitors exerted a level of control over the middle of the park not seen for some time and it was a little against the run of play when Brighton opened the scoring. A well struck if somewhat speculative strike by March took a slight deflection which seemed to catch Lössl out and the Dane could only palm the ball feebly against the post only for it to rebound on to his head and in. The blunder possibly looked worse than it was given the deflection, and the keeper redeemed himself on several occasions later in the game, but conceding first usually ends in defeat for the Terriers and going behind was ominous.
Brighton, however, charitably handed Steve Mounié an equaliser within a few minutes. Duffy was pressed by Pritchard in to a horrendous error and his attempted backpass found the Beninese in front of goal and with Ryan flat footed, he took the ball around the keeper to score Town’s first goal for over 7 hours.
Though Brighton were to have much the better chances after parity had been restored – even when down to 10 men – Town played with greater authority in the final hour than they have achieved for much of 2018 yet the same old, probably unsolvable, problems with creating and scoring chances persist.
A couple of fairly weak efforts barely reflected Town’s dominance of the ball, while a lack of awareness following a decent near post flick on from a corner and a lack of composure at the death by Quaner meant there was to be no stealing of the 3 points from a home side which didn’t deserve to lose (the point snatched from Burnley at home when a late penalty should have been awarded remains the only truly undeserved reward for Town from the whole season).
The bigger chances fell to the otherwise spluttering hosts, with Lössl making two excellent blocks (one in each half) and a couple of good, if routine saves from long distance shots. A combination of Mooy and Lössl denied Dunk from a corner while Duffy failed to atone for his error with a free header from another corner with his effort going just wide. Thankfully, Murray had a poor game up front for the hosts and expended most of his effort trying to gain free kicks.
A tasty midfield battle ended with the sending off of Pröpper who clattered clumsily and dangerously in to Hogg, who struggled on before being replaced by Billing. The lunge didn’t appear to be malicious but the Brighton midfielder’s attempt at a challenge was too high and lacking in control to escape the sanction of dismissal.
It didn’t make a great deal of difference, however – if anything, Town played better against a full complement and their extra man seemed to inhibit movement rather than encourage it and the vulnerability to Brighton’s pace increased as they pushed further up the pitch. Lössl’s intervention to prevent Izquierdo’s offside beating run – he had intervened in a similar fashion in the first half – elevated him from villain to point saving hero.
Billing replaced the stricken Hogg and while he can’t provide the aggression the Teeside man brings, he contributes elegance, height and a range of passing which could be useful if his colleague’s injury proves to be as bad as suspected.
With time running out, Town showed a degree of urgency to grab a winner and a final free kick on the left gave Wagner the opportunity to throw Depoitre in to the mix. Unfortunately, the resultant chance from an excellent Pritchard delivery, flicked on by Zanka, fell awkwardly to Quaner (who really doesn’t need much help in the awkward stakes). It looked a bad miss at the time, though the angle wasn’t great and a desperate defending lunge was a major distraction. It was, however, the type of opportunity which could make all the difference at season’s end.
Overall, Town’s display was much improved over last week’s anaemic effort though they were grateful for Brighton’s wasteful efforts on big chances. The point gained after going behind – even if the equaliser was gifted – was unusual for this team and should be savoured ahead of two huge home games which, if others stop doing us favours week after week, will decide our fate.