Brighton FC

Brighton are not unlucky - they are simply not good enough in attack

Scott McCarthy
Mar 1, 2021, 12:15 PM GMT
Graham Potter's Brighton create lots of opportunities but are woeful at converting them
Graham Potter's Brighton create lots of opportunities but are woeful at converting them / Clive Mason/Getty Images
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Whenever people talk about Brighton's 2020/21 Premier League season so far, there is one commonly used phrase to explain why the Seagulls have spent virtually the entire campaign in the bottom six - they're unlucky.

It as if some think Graham Potter visited the Palace of Versailles in the summer, entered the Hall of Mirrors and then accidentally smashed the entire room up, incurring 4,284 years worth of misfortune. That's the reason why Brighton are in a relegation battle which they cannot escape, even when on their day the Seagulls can go toe-to-toe with and beat the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool.

In fairness, Brighton do seem to have suffered their fair share of bad luck.

Dunk had a quickly taken free kick disallowed, allowed, and disallowed again at West Brom
Dunk had a quickly taken free kick disallowed, allowed, and disallowed again at West Brom / Pool/Getty Images

Their fans will point to a succession of refereeing decisions bizarre even by the high standards set by the top flight's officials this season. There was the 97th minute penalty awarded to Manchester United at the Amex in September after the final whistle had been blown which handed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side three points when they barely deserved one, having been totally outplayed.

Brighton's trip to West Brom saw Lewis Dunk score a quickly taken free kick after asking referee Lee Mason if he could play, only for the goal to be disallowed, allowed, and disallowed again. Mr Mason's indecision drew a furious reaction from Dunk and widespread condemnation across the football world.

For Seagulls supporters, it hardly came as a surprise - it was just another ludicrous moment in a season which has excelled itself in that department.

Weird and wonderful refereeing decisions aside, the other reason people brand Brighton unlucky is because of their xG. In virtually every game they play, the Seagulls register an xG in excess of their opponents and yet they have won just five Premier League games this season. Brighton have underperformed their xG by 15 goals this season. Translate that into points, and the Seagulls should have 18 more than their current 26 - enough to lift them above Chelsea and into fifth in the table.

Even with seven goals this season, Neal Maupay has been a major contributor to Brighton underperforming their xG
Even with seven goals this season, Neal Maupay has been a major contributor to Brighton underperforming their xG / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

The crucial word in that last paragraph is 'underperformed'. While xG stats may highlight some bad luck - coming up against a freakishly good goalkeeper display for example, as Brighton did when drawing 0-0 against Emiliano Martinez and Aston Villa - what they ultimately tell you is how a team should be performing with the chances they create.

Such a gaping chasm between xG and actual goals scored is not because Brighton are unlucky. It is because they are simply not good enough up front to make the most of the excellent approach play they are capable of.

If somebody took the time to put together a highlight reel of Brighton players missing easy chances from within 12 yards of goal this season, it would be quite the compilation - and none of it would have anything to do with bad luck.

Aaron Connolly did not walk under a ladder before failing to even hit the target when faced with open goals in must-win games against both West Brom and Sheffield United. Alireza Jahanbakhsh hitting the post with a free header from three yards out also against the Blades had nothing to do with a black cat crossing his path. As for Neal Maupay, his back catalogue of squandered opportunities is longer than the list of The Beatles' UK number ones.

You know you have problems in front on goal when even a German - Pascal Gross in this case - is missing penalties
You know you have problems in front on goal when even a German - Pascal Gross in this case - is missing penalties / Pool/Getty Images

Look again at those Manchester United and West Brom games. If Brighton do not set a Premier League record by hitting the woodwork five times in a single game against United, then they win regardless of whether referee Chris Kavanagh decides the Red Devils should get a spot kick after he has blown the final whistle. If Brighton do not set another Premier League record by hitting two penalties against the frame of the goal in a single game against the Baggies, then they win no matter if Lee Mason cannot work out whether to let a quickly taken free kick count or not.

There is nothing unlucky about putting two penalties off target. It is poor finishing and that is the story of the Seagulls' season. Should Brighton end up being relegated, some will say it was the unluckiest relegation ever.

In reality, it is a mess caused by a perfect storm of Covid-19 impacting football finances and the club's unwillingness to spend money on a striker - not bad luck.

It was fairly obvious from Brighton's struggles in front of goal throughout the 2019/20 campaign that they needed a new striker, especially with the phasing out of Glenn Murray who had scored 36 percent of the club's goals in their previous two top flight seasons. However, the Seagulls recorded a £67m loss in the pandemic-hit campaign, so their reluctance to fork out £30m on a new centre forward was understandable. Potter for his part said that he did not think Brighton needed to spend big on a striker, stating instead he believed he could coach more goals out of the Seagulls' existing roster of attackers.

That simply has not happened - in fact, if anything his strikers seem to have regressed.

Brighton's survival hopes from this point on appear to hinge on only one of the four teams below managing to overtake them. The good news is that Fulham are nearly as wasteful in front of goal as the Seagulls and Newcastle have been poor for months. Brighton are still to play the Magpies at the Amex and that game now looks massive for both sides. Potter oversaw a 3-0 win at St James' Park in September, but Brighton have failed to beat West Brom, Burnley, Southampton, Sheffield United, Wolves, Fulham, Villa and Palace at home so far.

A positive result against Newcastle is far from guaranteed.

Yves Bissouma has attracted plenty of attention with his performances for Brighton this season
Yves Bissouma has attracted plenty of attention with his performances for Brighton this season / Pool/Getty Images

Should Brighton survive, then they have to spend big in the summer on a striker. The current crop have shown they are not clinical enough by any stretch of the imagination and Potter's coaching has failed to make any sort of improvement to their output.

Money may be tight, but this Seagulls squad is packed with talent who have attracted attention from bigger clubs. Sell one of Yves Bissouma or Ben White for big money - with no shortage of talented midfielders and defenders already at the club to take their place - and that cash can be reinvested in a new centre forward.

Brighton ignored their striker problem last summer. That is why they are in a relegation battle, rather than being the unluckiest club on the planet. To pretend otherwise could lead them to make the same mistakes again. That would be a crying shame as Potter is one attacker away from creating something very special on the Sussex coast.

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