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  • Writer's pictureBy Kaz Mochlinski

Spurs Gerrit full in the face as they are caught in south coast storm

Brighton & Hove Albion (2) 4 Hinshelwood 11, Joao Pedro 23 pen, 75 pen, Estupinian 63

Tottenham Hotspur (0) 2 Veliz 81, Davies 85

Spurs’ aspirations of securing a top 4 finish in the Premier League this season suffered a significant setback on the South Coast with a disappointingly comprehensive defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion.

On an memorable night for Seagulls’ fans, their team thrillingly tore into Tottenham’s depleted defence, taking the lead after just 10 minutes and being unlucky to only be 2-0 ahead at half-time.

Brighton had doubled their advantage to 4-0 with a quarter of an hour left before Spurs finally hit back with two late consolation goals which at least provided another illustration of the side’s new spirit and tenacity.

As might have been hoped for in advance from a match between clubs coached by Roberto De Zerbi and Ange Postecoglou, both teams threw players forward with attacking intent from the outset.

The threatened heavy rain fortunately did not materialise, but this week’s storm nevertheless brought galeforce winds to the South Downs - with Brighton and Spurs seemingly trying to match the conditions by their pace of play initially.

Crucially Brighton’s back line was able to hold out in the early end-to-end exchanges, while Tottenham struggled in the absence of a recognised centre-back, once again starting with 4 full-backs in defence.

The news that Cristian Romero will be out for more than a month, joining long-term absentee Micky van de Ven on the sidelines with another hamstring injury, was a huge blow to Postecoglou’s plans this week.

In addition, Oliver Skipp was ruled out before kick-off due to a knock picked up in training, so, with ex-Albion midfielder Yves Bissouma still suspended, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg returned in midfield.

Brighton immediately cut through Spurs’ 4-2-3-1 set-up, with Danny Welbeck only being stopped from scoring thanks to two superb saves by Guglielmo Vicario in the opening 6 minutes of the match.

Despite the unavailability of both their injured first-choice wide players in Kaoru Mitoma and Solly March, the home side used the flanks cleverly to create the goal which put them in front.

João Pedro danced neatly off the left wing before switching play to the right, where 18-year-old Jack Hinshelwood astutely got away from the Spurs marking and showed great composure in his fine finish.

João Pedro was twice more denied only by Vicario’s brilliance, with the Tottenham goalkeeper continuing his outstanding form - on the day Hugo Lloris looked at last to be leaving the club, in a move to Los Angeles FC.

The second of those stops by Lloris’s replacement was necessitated by Pedro Porro’s error giving the ball away, by when Spurs were already 2 goals behind, thanks to João Pedro’s 24th-minute penalty.

It was awarded when a VAR intervention rightly identified Dejan Kulusevski pulling back Danny Welbeck in the penalty area in a scramble following a Brighton corner, which Jan Paul van Hecke had headed against the post.

James Milner also hit the same piece of woodwork with a fierce drive, while Facundo Buonanotte correctly had a sweetly-struck goal disallowed for straying offside, as Brighton continued to completely dominate.

Tottenham had gone into the game with a chance of taking third place in the Premier League, after a run of 3 successive wins. Long before half-time they were looking at damage-limitation and avoiding humiliation.

The North Londoners were not helped by playing in their unloved all-beige third kit. Officially described by the producers Nike as “Taupe Haze”, it had been previously worn when losing at Fulham in the Carabao Cup.

Quirkily, Brighton this time produced probably their best performance since beating Chelsea 4-1 in October last year for De Zerbi’s first win in charge of the club - with the opposition then also wearing beige (“Sand” according to Nike, rapidly discarded thereafter).

The one brief period when Tottenham threatened to give their travelling support some hope came either side of half-time as Richarlison a couple of times almost broke through the hosts’ ferociously-committed defending.

The Brazilian struck the outside of Jason Steele’s post with a drive from the edge of the penalty area in stoppage time at the end of the first half, before at last putting the ball in the net in the opening minute of the second half.

However, his break down the left and shot across the goalkeeper was ruled out for offside, and his inability to read Brighton’s defensive line again proved costly just after the hour mark.

Richarlison’s run into the right side of the penalty box onto Kulusevski’s through-ball was matched by his sharp first-time finish, but for the second time he was caught offside, on this occasion after a VAR check.

Barely a minute later, Albion went three-up with a spectacular long shot curled into the top corner by Pervis Estupiñán, who made his return from a lengthy injury absence as a half-time substitute.

And it was 4-0 in the 75th minute with Brighton’s second penalty of the match, again converted by João Pedro, and again given by the VAR, for a foul by Giovani Lo Celso on Evan Ferguson.

It was João Pedro’s eighth successful spot kick of the season, more than any other player in Europe’s big five leagues has managed in all competitions in 2023-24. Albion’s record signing is the club’s top scorer this season with 13 goals.

Despite his side’s dominance, De Zerbi was furious that they almost allowed Spurs back into the game in the final 10 minutes, preventing a first clean sheet in the league of this campaign.

In the 81st minute, Tottenham substitute Alejo Veliz scored his first goal in English football and then four minutes later, Ben Davies added a second when he came up from centre-back for a far-post header.

Veliz’s effort came from a rare Lewis Dunk error, losing the ball to Kulusevski plus in the process committing a foul which cost the Brighton captain a yellow card and means that he is suspended for the forthcoming trip to West Ham.

If that was visibly frustrating for De Zerbi, then his distress was even more evident when Højbjerg hit the post late on, as Spurs staged what would have been a very unlikely comeback after most of their fans had already headed for home.

Tottenham at least maintained their current scoring run, which is now up to 31 consecutive league games and just one away from the club’s longest top-flight streak of 32 matches in set in 1962.

Conversely, since the start of November, Spurs have conceded 19 goals, with no Premier League team having let in more during this two-month period at the end of the year.

Similarly, Brighton keep scoring without being able to stop conceding in the league, despite continuing to rotate their goalkeepers. Their club record run without keeping a clean sheet is now up to 23 successive league games.

More encouragingly, Albion have broken the club record of 7 consecutive Premier League home games unbeaten, with their best series of successive results at their own ground under De Zerbi.

“We played fantastic football for 80 minutes” De Zerbi emphasised afterwards. “I think this season it was the best performance” he added.

For Postecoglou, there was understandable concern, as he admitted: “It is fair to say we looked like a tired team today. We’ve asked a lot of these players for a very long time and we lacked a little bit of energy today.

“They [Brighton] are a good team and we struggled to cope with them. We hung in there and that’s all you can ask for. They [the Spurs players] left everything out there.”

Seagulls (4-1-2-1-2) Steele - Hinshelwood, van Hecke, Dunk, dos Santos (Estupinian h/t) - Gilmour - Gros, Milner (Moder 69) - Buonanotte (Baleba 59) - Welbeck (Ferguson 69), Joao Pedro (Lallana 90+3)

Spurs (4-2-3-1) Vicario - Porro, Emerson Royal, Davies, Udogie - Sarr (Gil 65), Hojbjerg - Johnson (Veliz 70), Kulusevski, Son - Richarlison (Lo Celso 65)

Attendance: 31,675


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