Wins against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, but Brighton and Hove Albion's point at Burnley more impressive?
Well, that was a rather good week for Brighton & Hove Albion.
Seven points from three incredibly tough games at home to Tottenham Hotspur, away against reigning champions Liverpool and on the road at Burnley was the sort of return that even the most wildly optimistic Seagulls supporter would not have expected.
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Beating the two sides who contested the Champions League final less than two years ago inside the space of 96 hours garnered most of the headlines. Spurs may be a totally different proposition without Harry Kane and Liverpool might be going through a patch so rough that it is slowly causing Jurgen Klopp to lose the plot, but those are still two impressive results against opponents who should finish in the top four.
And yet… I cannot help but feel that the 1-1 draw at Burnley was somehow more impressive. You might think “How can a man accuse Herr Klopp of losing the plot, and then say drawing at Burnley is better than winning at Liverpool?” but hear me out on this one.
Ever since Graham Potter took over, Brighton have been capable of playing football that can go toe-to-toe with the better sides in the Premier League. Last season, we saw that in victories against Spurs at the Amex, a draw against Chelsea and a home and away double versus Arsenal.
In the current campaign so far, the Albion had taken a point off Liverpool and pushed Manchester City as close as anyone has in the past two months. There was also that famous home game against Manchester United, which should have yielded at least a point had we not been treated to the farcical scenes of United being awarded a 97th minute penalty after the final whistle had blown.
Brighton’s problem under Potter has been producing such performances and garnering such results on a consistent basis. They have got it in them, it is just that it rarely seems to all come together at the same time. And when it does not come together, we have not known another way to pick up points. Until now.
At Burnley, the Albion had to display a quality that we have seen far less frequently than good football. The players had to dig in and fight their way to a point when they were clearly knackered at one of the toughest places to go in the Premier League. The Clarets are the top flight’s ultimate battlers and yet here were Brighton on a horrible day in Lancashire matching them at their own game.
Cast your mind back to half time on January 2nd when the Albion trooped off at the Amex 3-1 down to Wolverhampton Wanderers. The performance had been grim, but the more concerning factor was that the players looked like they did not care. After winning just two games of 17 all season at that point, lots of supporters were questioning whether this side had the fight needed to get out of the relegation battle.
The football at times in the 2020-21 season might have been pretty, but where was the leadership and the willingness to run through a brick wall for the club that the likes of Shane Duffy, Glenn Murray, Dale Stephens, Anthony Knockaert and the rest of the promotion heroes had shown? Having players who cared and possessed fighting spirit was as much a reason for those calls to bring Duffy and Murray back from their loan spells as their footballing abilit.
Anyway, 45 minutes later against Wolves and Brighton had shown they did have their requisite battle for the job. Neal Maupay and Lewis Dunk led the comeback to secure the Albion a 3-3 draw, since when they have only lost once. It is this new-found fighting spirt that has helped underpin a charge up the table to the point that Brighton have gone from hovering one point above the bottom three to 10 clear of the relegation zone.
Two months ago, there is no way that the Albion would have taken a point from Burnley given that it was a real man-the-trenches job. They had to show similar qualities at Leeds United too, throwing bodies on the line and putting in an obscene amount of effort on a pitch which resembled the surface of the moon. Even Newport County away in the FA Cup was a war of attrition against lower league opponents with nothing to lose and a reputation for giant killing. Maybe we did not give scraping through at Rodney Parade enough credit at the time.
The best teams around play good football, but they also know how to fight and pick up points when they are far below their best. Gus Poyet’s League One champions were the epitome of that. On their day, they could blow away their nearest rivals with astonishing results, such as winning 4-0 at Charlton Athletic and 3-0 at Peterborough United.
They mixed that perfectly with one of the greatest will-to-wins any Brighton side have had. Coming back from 1-0 down to draw at home with Charlton after playing for 80 minutes with 10 men and those famous last minute winners at home to Oldham Athletic and Carlisle United were evidence of that.
Liam Bridcutt’s sweet volley to beat the Cumbrians came as part of Mad March, when Brighton had to play eight times in four weeks. They somehow found a way to win every single game, often by the tightest of margins, setting a post-war club record for successive victories in the process.
The Class of 2021’s recent results suggest that they too are starting to understand the value of ugly points. Combine the passing style of Potterball with this new-found steel running through the side and which can see them outbattle Burnley, and Brighton eyes should be firmly up the table. The Albion have their fight back.