HUDDERSFIELD Town paid heavily for their first-half failings and were left to reflect on a headache which seems to be becoming a recurring theme.
Will Buckley’s clinical finishing gave Brighton what proved to be a winning edge despite all Town’s meritorious battling endeavour over the final hour at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Click on the link below to open up our picture gallery of match actionRelated content
Simon Grayson’s side again had to do battle without their two most potent threats – injured strikers James Vaughan and Jermaine Beckford – and were also shorn of the electric pace of hamstring-injury victim Sean Scannell.
Those qualities were sorely missed as Town couldn’t find a cutting edge until Reading loan man Simon Church, mopping up nicely after keeper Peter Brezovan spilled a Danny Ward shot in the final minute, pounced for his first goal for the club.
It’s a real shame it didn’t come 10 minutes earlier because Brighton, looking more rocky in the closing stages, may well have succumbed again to increasing Town pressure.
Grayson pointed to a slow first 20 minutes in which Town stood off and didn’t put anywhere near enough pressure on the man in possession as the root cause of defeat, and that certainly was a major contributory factor.
It was again apparent, however, that Town didn’t get to grips with the man playing in the ‘hole’ – that annoying space which can be exploited between the back four and what should be their coveringmidfield.
At times on Saturday, Buckley – who was picked out by Brighton’s visiting press before kick-off as the biggest threat in a 4-1-2-3 formation – Ashley Barnes, Dean Hammond and Andrea Orlandi all drifted into the ‘hole’ without being picked up.
It allowed Brighton to ease into their much-vaunted passing style and benefit with goals on five and 39 minutes, both resulting from Town mistakes, and also to create a number of other decent chances which might, on another day, have put them out of sight.
Town have been troubled by the man in the ‘hole’ on a number of occasions already this season.
Fernando Forestieri of Watford springs to mind, so too Ruben Rochina of Blackburn and, most strikingly, George Boyd of Peterborough, who had an absolute field day when constantly dropping off his markers in their win over Town at London Road.
The way Brighton combat such an issue is to have Liam Bridcutt stationed right in front of the back four, and he was a frustrating presence for Town as they worked to try and force a breakthrough.
Town were certainly not lucky with some of the big calls from referee Simon Hooper – skipper Peter Clarke and sub Alan Lee, in particular, having valid claims for penalties turned down – but they were just left with that little bit too much to do after those first-half errors.
The first goal came from a poorly marshalled short-corner routine while the second resulted from the normally foot-sure Keith Southern being robbed of possession in midfield.
That was symptomatic of Town’s passing and thinking not being as slick as usual in the first period, but bright spots were provided by Danny Ward and Jack Hunt, plus the dangerous raiding of left-back Paul Dixon, whose crossing is a feature Town need to be making more of.