There comes a time when repeated misfortune simply begins to look like carelessness. In the case of Brighton & Hove Albion, the bad luck stories are starting to wear thin. Even when the ball bounce runs in their favor, they find ways not to win, undermining the focus playstyle with a self-destructive streak that continues to leave them uncomfortable near the bottom three.
Still victorious on just two occasions this season, Brighton knocked a disappointing West Ham off the hook on a hectic afternoon in East London, missing an opportunity to move four points away from 18th after giving up the lead twice with sloppy defense . Up front, thanks to slightly serendipitous strikes from Neal Maupay and Lewis Dunk, Graham Potter’s team ended up frustrated again after Tomáš Souček rescued West Ham with a late draw.
Brighton should have held out after Dunk’s goal. West Ham, winless in three games, was mediocre. Looking for a way to unleash an attack weakened by the absence of the injured Michail Antonio, David Moyes chose a baffling team. A theory based on putting more players around Sébastien Haller, a striker who lacks the mobility to occupy defenses on his own, fell apart when put into practice. The system, a 3-4-1-2 with Mark Noble crawling into a free role, simply felt too cautious against a team struggling on the wrong side of the table.
It was a case of square pegs in round holes. With Arthur Masuaku unavailable following knee surgery, Ben Johnson looked uncomfortable on the left back, depleting the momentum of attacks by always cutting off his favorite right foot. Further inside, Noble was falling too deep, meaning West Ham often had eight players in its own half and no one to link the game.
The numbers summed it up: West Ham didn’t take a shot on goal in the first half. It was unnecessary on Moyes’ part. Not only did he have creative players on the bench, he had also found a way to negate West Ham’s strengths. Noble’s presence unsettled Souček, who wasn’t sure when to prowl Brighton territory, while the decision to move Jarrod Bowen in and closer to Haller left the hosts with no natural width on the right flank.
Brighton gradually realized that West Ham was working. Easy on the eyes in possession, they initially missed a bite in the final third, neglecting some promising darts from Danny Welbeck. However, under little pressure, they began to force the issue. Solly March, a threat down the left, threw a pair of dangerous crosses and tested Lukasz Fabianski from 20 yards. Adam Webster was disappointed to address Fabianski directly.
The question was whether Brighton, which hasn’t exactly exuded conviction in the final third of this season, could gain an advantage. The answer came after 44 minutes of nice but ineffective probing. Dan Burn took the lead, overlapping left and producing a neat undercut after combining with March. The ball found Maupay and although the forward hesitated at first, he was clinical when an inadvertent touch from Declan Rice allowed him to spin Angelo Ogbonna and pass Fabianski from close range.
It was up to Moyes to fix their mess. However, it must be recognized that he responded firmly during the break, replacing Bowen and Noble with Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko. West Ham was transformed. They even put Robert Sanchez to the test within two minutes of the second half, Haller delivering a warning addressing himself directly to the Brighton goalkeeper.
The West Ham substitutes were free to influence the game. At the hour, Yarmolenko cut inside on the right and crossed with his left foot. Souček, no longer displaced by Noble, was there to create a nuisance. The ball ran free and Lanzini reacted smartly despite lying on the ground, putting Johnson on the tee to score his first high-level goal.
However, instead of withering away, Brighton remained calm. After 69 minutes, a quick corner allowed March to cross. Soucek’s punt attempt hit Dunk, who controlled before crashing high into the net. The goal came after a review of the handball VAR by Dunk.
The game inched towards the final whistle with Brighton holding his own. However, West Ham, which is still 10th, does not lie down. With eight minutes to go, Aaron Cresswell’s corner slipped out of Dunk’s head and drifted toward Soucek, whose relieved smile suggested he knew this: West Ham had gotten away with it.
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