Premier League

Reliance on Murray isn't the cause of Brighton's slump

 • by Matt Gault
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Never has Brighton and Hove Albion’s reliance on Glenn Murray been more apparent than in their recent FA Cup victory over West Brom.

At 1-1, Chris Hughton turned to the veteran striker and sent him on in place of Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Murray was introduced in the 101st minute. Three minutes later, he scored.

Another 13 minutes later, he struck again, breaking Baggies hearts and sending the Seagulls through to the fifth round.

However, not even Murray’s clinical edge up front has been enough to arrest his side’s current slide down the Premier League.

One of last season’s promoted trio, Hughton’s men were never in trouble of going straight back down, but the fear is real this time around. Their latest disappointment, a 3-1 home defeat to resurgent Burnley means they have won just one – and lost seven – of their last 11 Premier League games.

The dip is made all the more frustrating by the fact they were looking pretty good just prior to Christmas. An impressive 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace on December 4 lifted Brighton up into tenth, 12 points clear of the relegation zone after five wins in eight.

Since then, however, grey clouds have gathered over the Amex Stadium. They are yet to record a league victory in 2019 and, while sticking with their manager has helped keep them somewhat on the down-low, there is a growing sense of unease over their top-flight status.

The underlying stats provide a clear picture of their recent troubles, too.

Unsurprisingly, they have struggled in front of goal over the last 11 league games, scoring just nine times – only Huddersfield have fewer – with just five of those coming from open play. That is very much in keeping with Brighton’s season as a whole, though; they have only netted 12 goals from open play.

While Murray’s ten league goals are beyond reproach, questions must be asked of his attack-minded teammates. José Izquierdo has been injured since the start of December but the Colombian failed to find the net in the 597 minutes of league action he’s managed this season.

Jürgen Locadia, however, cannot use injury as an excuse. While the Dutchman hasn’t been a regular starter, scoring twice from 990 minutes of action is underwhelming. Jahanbakhsh impressed in the cup win over West Brom but hasn’t yet found the net in the league, a risible record for the club’s £17million record signing.

Florin Andone, in contrast, has shown signs of life after a slow start following his move from Deportivo La Coruña, with four goals since the start of December in all competitions.

But Brighton’s problems run deeper than goalscoring. Since December 8, their team persona has changed drastically. Before, they were characterised predominantly with dogged defending. Since they have relied heavily on long balls and crosses.

With Murray’s physicality and abilities as a frontman who can hold up the ball and link play, that’s perhaps understandable, but it has meant they have too often looked one-dimensional and bereft of ideas.

It also isn’t working. Since December 8, they have completed more accurate crosses (74) than any other Premier League side, yet have scored just one header.

The defence isn’t up to much, either. Brighton have conceded 39 goals, which is far from worrying (Fulham have shipped 58, while Cardiff and Burnley have each let in 47 apiece).

However, the Seagulls backline is often put under strain by the side’s inability to win possession in either the attacking or midfield third. In fact, they rank 18th and 19th in those respective categories but second for possession reclaimed in the defensive third.

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Of course, it’s important to contextualise. Brighton’s last ten games have included encounters with Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United. While Hughton will have been disappointed at taking just one point from a possible six at home to Watford and Burnley, the next run of games offers plenty of opportunities to pick up points.

Their next three home fixtures are against Huddersfield, Cardiff and Southampton, all of whom are below them in the table. The visits of Bournemouth and Newcastle to the Amex also represent good chances to seal all three points.

Like last season, Brighton have endured a difficult run, although 2018’s came slightly later, in March. They may feel in danger at this point but there are certainly chances to haul themselves back up the table before a daunting season finale double-bill; away to Arsenal and home to Manchester City.

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