Brighton hold on against Spurs to take step closer to safety
Pascal Gross scored a penalty to snatch a point after Harry Kane opened the scoring
Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris is beaten by a penalty from Pascal Gross of Brighton and Hove Albion during their Premier League encounter. Photo: Glyn Kirk/Getty Images
Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
It was on this day last year that Brighton ensured their promotion from the Championship. On Tuesday night at the Amex Stadium, they took a small step towards retaining their Premier League status for another season.
The fiendish nature of their run-in has been well-documented and Chris Hughton’s team must still face the Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Burnley in their final matches.
They needed something, anything, to enable them to breathe a little more easily after a worrying run of one point from an available 15 – and this was it. The horror of Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Crystal Palace was temporarily forgotten as Brighton put their bodies on the line to earn precious reward. The roar from the home fans upon the full-time whistle told its own story.
For Tottenham, it was points dropped. Harry Kane had put them in front with his 26th goal of the Premier League season – his Golden Boot rival, Mohamed Salah, has 30 – but Brighton showed their strength of character with an instant riposte through Pascal Gross’s penalty. Tottenham’s lead over fifth-placed Chelsea could be cut to five points when their west London rivals go to Burnley on Thursday – with four matches to play. Theirs remains a position of strength.
It had felt like a bigger game for Brighton, given that Tottenham’s run-in looks favourable. Three of the London club’s final four matches are at Wembley – against Watford, Newcastle and Leicester – with the other one being a trip to West Brom.
The FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United on Saturday loomed large, and Mauricio Pochettino juggled his resources accordingly. He made six changes from the weekend defeat to Manchester City and left out Davinson Sánchez and Dele Alli from the squad entirely. There was a first league appearance since 28 October for Toby Alderweireld.
Tottenham pressed onto the front foot at the outset. It is a measure of the depth of quality in Pochettino’s squad that he can rotate players and still watch his team go away from home and set the tempo. Hughton matched up Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 starting system but there were spells when Brighton were pressed back. Tottenham sparked danger on a number of occasions when they won the ball high up the pitch.
Brighton were happy to counterattack, with Anthony Knockaert a pacy and willing outlet on the right, and they grew into a high-energy first half. The home support knew what was at stake and were eager to get behind any promising signs from their players.
Gross, in the No 10 role, provided a few of them, including a lovely drag-back that saw him escape Victor Wanyama in the 28th minute and cross low. Glenn Murray could not muster sufficient power in his goalward flick.
The first half was end-to-end, without there being many clear-cut chances. Son Heung-min, who menaced Bruno, the Brighton right-back and captain, had the best one in the third minute of stoppage-time. Taking a flick from Kane, he eked out a yard of space before shooting for the bottom corner. Mathew Ryan thrust out a hand to save smartly.
Set-pieces had seemed the likeliest route to the breakthrough. The tension inside the ground was palpable when Christian Eriksen and Kane stood over free-kicks on the edge of the Brighton area on 11 and 44 minutes respectively, but neither could convert. The awards had followed loose passes from Beram Kayal and Knockaert.
At the other end, Lewis Dunk rose to direct a towering header at goal from Gross’s 19th minute corner and Knockaert nearly applied a decisive touch in front of Hugo Lloris. He did succeed in panicking the Tottenham goalkeeper, who fumbled, but Brighton could not capitalise. Knockaert quickened the pulse with a surging run and shot, which deflected and extended Lloris while Ryan had to be alert to tip over a long ranger from Lucas Moura.
There was the sense that Brighton were playing with fire with some of their passes in the defensive third, and they were burned upon the second-half restart when Gross erred to put Gaetan Bong in trouble. The left-back was tackled by Wanyama and, when the ball broke, Son tried to run around Dunk on the byline. Son did not look to have the room but he benefitted from the spin of the ball, which remained on the right side of the line, and the alarm bells sounded when Kane swooped. He crashed home from close range.
How would Brighton respond? They gave their answer immediately. José Izquierdo had the position on Serge Aurier inside the box following Murray’s touch, and the Tottenham right-back’s attempt to rectify the situation was clumsy. Izquierdo felt the contact and went down. Gross’s penalty was too powerful for Lloris.
Tottenham pushed for the winner and Pochettino sent on Mousa Dembélé and Erik Lamela. His players dominated in territorial terms but Brighton’s resolve was impressive. They worked tirelessly to retain their shape and restrict the space between the lines. The Brighton fans endured a few flutters, not least when Eriksen fizzed in a low cross-cum-shot and Shane Duffy diverted it inches past the far post. Lamela was also denied by Ryan late on. But Hughton’s battlers had done enough. – Guardian service