Brighton 1-1 Watford: A Share of the Spoils as the Relegation Battle Rages On
Brighton and Hove Albion welcomed Watford to their Amex Stadium on Saturday, for what was the 26th game of the Premier League season and potentially a vital one for both teams.
Both the Seagulls and the Hornets seem destined for a fierce battle against relegation this term. Brighton entered the game in 15th place with 26 points to their name, just two more than West Ham at the top of the red zone, while Watford were right in the middle of it with a point less than the Hammers.
Brighton boss Graham Potter welcomed defenders Shane Duffy and Dan Burn to his ranks, after they recovered from leg surgery and a broken collar bone, respectively.
Matthew Ryan was in goal. Captain Lewis Dunk and Duffy were the centre-backs, Burn on the left and Ezequiel Schelotto on the right. Davy Propper was the deepest midfielder with Aaron Mooy and Pascal Gross further ahead. Solly March and Leandro Trossard flanked Glenn Murray in attack.
Nigel Pearson in the away dugout had to wait for the assessments on the fitness of fullback Nathaniel Chalobah and winger Ismaila Sarr. Chalobah made the bench, but Sarr was left out.
Ben Foster stood between the posts. Craig Cathcard paired up with Christian Kabasele in the heart of defence, with Adam Masina on the left flank and Adrian Mariappa on the right. Etienne Capoue and Will Hughes were the double pivot in midfield, with Abdoulaye Doucoure in an advanced position as a number 10. Upfront, captain Troy Deeney was supported by Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra.
The First Half
Brighton entered the match strongly, attacked from the start and caused a few scrambles in the visitors’ box, but Watford defended resolutely and shook the pressure off after a while.
Both teams mostly resorted to going wide when in possession, and looked for Murray and Deeney, respectively, with hopeful crosses from there, but the centre-backs of both teams were completely capable of dealing with such situations.
But in the 19th minute, Watford’s midfield pair dispossesed Mooy in the middle of the park, Doucoure took the ball forward, and as no opponent came out to try and stop him, he let fly from just inside the box and beat Ryan with a powerful shot.
Though the Seagulls pushed forward in search of an equalizer straight away, Watford players made it clear they weren’t going to surrender their lead so easily and a fierce physical battle developed on the pitch. In the 26th minute, Kabasele cleared a cross from his box but it fell nicely for Mooy, whose volley from 20 yards went over the bar. The Hornets hit back quickly as Deulofeu broke down the left and found Doucoure in the box, but the goalscorer was crowded out this time.
As time went on, Brighton’s lines were moving steadily towards Foster’s goal, but Watford looked very dangerous on the counterattack. Deulofeu again did well in the 30th minute and this time he pulled it back for Hughes on the edge of the box, but the shot was deflected wide of the target. The home team retaliated through March who beat Deulofeu to enter the box from the right wing, but Schelotto, who was on the receiving end of his pass, failed to hit it first time and was consequently blocked.
In the 36th minute, Watford had a great chance to double their lead as Deeney dispossessed Duffy in Brighton’s half and employed Pereyra on the right, but the winger chose the wrong option as he tried to set Doucoure up – a move foreseen and prevented by Schelotto.
Five minutes later, there was a bit of controversy as Schelotto went down in Watford’s box just as he was about to blast the ball goalwards, and there appeared to have been some contact between him and the backtracking Deulofeu. Referee Kevin Friend waved ‘play on’ and VAR did not intervene, but it was certainly interesting to see the moment from several angles in slow motion. The overwhelming feeling is that Deulofeu did trip the Brighton wing-back, but there certainly isn’t much point in debating it right now.
The Second Half
There were no changes after the break and there were no early excitements either, until March won a free-kick for Brighton in a promising position on the left, but Foster made sure no danger for his team came from it.
But there appeared to be a slight change in the formation and the role Gross was performing for Brighton. He dropped deeper down and formed a double pivot with Propper, while Mooy moved up to the number 10 position, just behind Murray, which meant the home side were now playing in a 4-2-3-1 shape, just like the visitors.
In the 54th minute, Mooy did well to hold the ball in Watford’s half and engaged Schelotto on the right. The fullback charged forward and sent a sharp ball across the face of the goal, with Murray’s slide failing to reach it by a few inches. It was a good chance.
Potter made another change after that, withdrawing defender Burn and sending in forward Chris Maupay, who joined Murray upfront while March moved back to the left defensive flank. With both Mooy and Trossard now constantly switching sides and moving inwards, there was a lot of space on the wings for Schelotto and March to run into on the flanks.
A few minutes later, Gross made way for Steven Alzate.
It was now an all-out attack approach from the Seagulls. They were pressing all over the pitch, winning the ball quickly and keeping it close to Watford’s box all the time. It lasted about 10 minutes before the Hornets broke free from the shackles again and threatened dangerously on the counterattack.
In the 73rd minute, Potter threw his last dice as Alireza Jahanbakhsh replaced Schelotto while Watford’s Masina was receiving treatment after clash with Duffy left him holding his shoulder in pain. Alzate moved to the right defensive flank.
Four minutes later, Brighton created their first real chance of the game. Mooy played a good combination with Maupay on the edge of the box and broke through, but Foster was the hero of the moment as he stepped out and made a fine save.
But there was nothing the Watford ‘keeper could do to prevent Mariappa from scoring an own-goal in the 78th minute. Jahanbakhsh whipped in a low ball from the right across the six yards, and Mariappa, probably fearing an opponent running in at the far post, tried to clear but ended up slamming into his own net from close range.
The equalizer gave a huge boost to the home team and they went now in search of a winner. Pearson’s reaction was to withdraw Pereyra and replace him with Ignacio Pussetto. He soon sent in Danny Welbeck in the place of Deulofeu as well.
Both teams were now on the hunt, looking to book all three points if possible. The ball went quickly from one end of the pitch to the other for a while, and in the 88th minute Jahanbakhsh almost found Trossard’s run in behind, but the winger couldn’t control it well enough and Foster was quick to stifle the danger.
The five minutes of injury time mostly belonged to the hosts, but the Hornets held on for their lives and took a well-earned point home.
All in all, this was an equal contest and neither team will be unhappy with the point added to their respective tallies. It doesn’t change much as to how the table looks at the moment, but it could end up being the difference between survival and relegation come May.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Ryan 7.5, Dunk 7, Duffy 6.5, Burn 6 (57′ Maupay 7), Mooy 7.5, Propper 7.5, Schelotto 7 (74′ Jahanbakhsh 7.5), March 7, Gross 5.5 (62′ Alzate 6), Trossard 7, Murray 7.
WATFORD: Foster 7.5, Cathcart 7, Kabasele 7, Masina 6.5, Mariappa 5.5, Capoue 7.5, Doucoure 7.5, Hughes 6.5, Pereyra 6 (82′ Pussetto), Deulofeu 7 (86′ Welbeck N/A), Deeney.
GOALS: Doucoure 19′, Mariappa (OG) 78′.
YELLOW CARDS: Schelotto 35′, Hughes 64′, Mariappa 65′, March 90’+3.
REFEREE: Kevin Friend.
DATE & VENUE: Febraury 8, 2020, Amex Stadium, Brighton.