Southampton 2 Brighton 2
Southampton have grown used to suffering choking disappointment on their own patch in recent times, when the panic so often grips late to leave confidence shredded.
Mark Hughes’ team had led a sloppy Brighton by two goals midway through the second half, only to ship an equaliser in stoppage time. Only once since last November have they claimed a home league win, a record which is tempering ambitions. This all felt horribly familiar.
They were quaking long before the end as Brighton, stirred out of their initial lethargy, flung everything at them. Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Jürgen Locadia had injected much needed energy from the bench, with Anthony Knockaert suddenly spreading panic with his every touch.
Even so, Alex McCarthy's wonderful save from Locadia's header in the final minute appeared to have preserved the home win. Then, from the resulting corner, Shane Duffy was shoved to the turf and the referee, Anthony Taylor, awarded a spotkick. Up strode Glenn Murray to convert for the 98th time as a Brighton player.
Hughes had never overseen a home game under floodlights since taking up the reins at St Mary's with the occasion almost billed as a fresh start. So wretched had Southampton's home form been since the onset of last winter that anything to shrug the locals out of the state of apprehension was to be welcomed. "It has been (a mental block)," said the manager in the buildup, "but I sense there is a bit more freedom about our play at home." He cited improved attitude and urgency as key, and might have pointed to the pace and incision offered by Ryan Bertrand and Nathan Redmond down the left flank as evidence of a timely upturn in confidence.
The pair would help kickstart a match that had drifted through the opening quarter, with Redmond emerging from the plod to turn smartly and dart away from Dale Stephens, injecting energy into Saints in the process. The chaos at the resulting corner, the ball ricocheting around from Pierre-Emile Højbjerg's nod back, was an indication of how Brighton, previously so composed, had been discomforted. Danny Ings might have scored in the mayhem only for Knockaert to hack off a cluttered goalline, with Wesley Hoedt blazing the rebound over the bar.
It was as if Southampton believed from that moment, their belief instantly pepped by Redmond's flash of quality. The winger, one of four Saints players being watched by Gareth Southgate and Steve Holland, was soon crossing invitingly to the far post where Mohamed Elyounoussi towered above a dawdling Gaëten Bong only to head wastefully wide.
Yet Brighton would not be spared for long. The respite of the interval was still 10 minutes away when Elyounouss's cross was nodded clear with the ball falling to Højbjerg 30 yards out. The Dane took a touch and, with Yves Bissouma slow to close him down, cut across the ball with the sweetest of connections to rip a shot towards the far corner where it swerved beyond the sprawling Matt Ryan.
Brighton had offered next to no bite of their own, with this threatening to be a repeat of the anaemic defeat endured at Watford on the opening weekend. Yet, once Chris Hughton had reminded his charges of their responsibility to press and harass, there was an improvement in the second half. Solly March whipped in two dangerous centres and Davy Pröpper nodded a Martin Montoya cross behind. When Murray liberated Knockaert, sprinting into space, it took McCarthy's save to thwart an equaliser though March, completely free in space to the Frenchman's left, appeared better placed to pounce.
They would find their range, Shane Duffy planting a downward header from Knockaert's free-kick beyond McCarthy, yet that reward only served to halve the deficit. If Southampton had been rattled in midfield, then their pace on the counterattack remained. Bertrand had already exposed Brighton's rank flank when Højbjerg found Ings and the striker, becalmed until he sensed his moment, burst away from Lewis Dunk into the box where Bong's tangle of legs sent him to ground. The striker's penalty record is patchy, but, with the England manager taking note, his finish was emphatic enough.
A third goal in four games since joining initially on loan is a fine start to life away from Liverpool and it should have proved a winner, only for Brighton's late rally to claw it all back. Hughes, slumped in his dugout, has seen this all before too often.