This one has too many talking points. We moved up to second. We survived another refereeing apocalypse. We didn’t play particularly well for the third game running. Jose may have gotten the set-up wrong, but the substitutes were perfect. And the goal came from the best possible place.
Start with the basics of this game. We were very good for fifteen minutes, then allowed Brighton to dictate the game for nearly an hour though their goal was dubiously scored, then were good enough to win and hold on to the three points in the final twenty minutes. I don’t understand most of the middle—Brighton had ideas, Lamptey is growing before our very eyes into one of the most dangerous wingers in the sport, but why was our attack so toothless? I have noticed that when Kane drops back teams are now crowding him so he can’t make the turn and the long pass to Son or one of our fullbacks. Hojbjerg for all his virtues doesn’t turn the field and Ndombele was perhaps cowed by his early yellow from showing much aggression. And Sissoko is never going to be more than a filler who can supply some engine but will rarely make the type of play that can produce a goal. Son was off tonight, Lamela played better and nearly scored once and crossed for a possible Kane goal another time, and dare I say that we miss Christian Eriksen c 2018?
Yet I thought through it all the defence was as solid as it has been. If Graeme Scott hadn’t ignored an obvious foul on Hojbjerg and then doubled down despite the VAR room basically telling him there was a foul in the buildup to Lamptey’s goal, the Bale heroics would probably have not been necessary. And before we got the winner, Lamela hit the post and so did Kane and so did Brighton from a wacky double deflection—so this could easily have been done and dusted before our prodigal son won it. But it wasn’t, and he did. Kudos to Sergio Reguilon for a brilliant cross to his once and future teammate, and to Gareth for doing what a consummate professional does in that situation. Ball-head-back of the net. And let’s not forget Harry’s guile in winning a legitimate penalty for the opener—Lallana can complain all he wants, and clearly did when the teams returned to the pitch after halftime, but he was guilty and unlucky that our talisman happened to be standing on the line to the penalty area.
As to the other two big decisions, Ian Wright can bitch and moan all he wants—Doherty barely had a tug on Trossard who thought for an instant and as he saw the ball speed by his reach then decided to take a tumble. So VAR got it right. And VAR, it must be said, was three for three (Kane penalty their first correct call) in that clearly the crew in the studio felt Hojgberg had been fouled and inexplicably Scott had a different take. I thought the referee lost control of the game in the final twenty minutes—both sides were fortunate that things didn’t get out of control and someone ended up seeing red.
Title contender? The table says so. The performances are not so clear. But it is still early days—we have two more Europa games, a trip to the Hawthorns, and an international break before games against Man City and Chelsea will shed more light on just how high our ambitions may grow this season. I know one thing—I’d rather win ugly than draw or lose pretty.
Have something to tell us about this article?