Could a shock Glenn Murray return fire Brighton to Premier League safety?

Scott McCarthy
Glenn Murray looks set to return to Brighton in January. Could he provide the answer to the Seagulls' troubles in front of goal?
Glenn Murray looks set to return to Brighton in January. Could he provide the answer to the Seagulls' troubles in front of goal? / Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
facebooktwitterreddit

Brighton & Hove Albion are not clinical enough.

Failing to take chances has been the story of the Seagulls' 2020/21 season and goes a long way towards explaining why a team who are capable of playing football which can go toe-to-toe with the best sides in the Premier League are 17th in the table with only two wins on the board.

It is fairly clear that what Graham Potter needs is a striker to put the ball in the back of the net. The Brighton boss was reluctant to delve into the transfer market to find one in the summer. He dismissed the idea of signing what he described as a 'silver bullet' centre forward for big money, instead saying that he want to improve the output of the Seagull's existing forward options.

Brighton signed Danny Welbeck on a free transfer in the summer following his release from Watford
Brighton signed Danny Welbeck on a free transfer in the summer following his release from Watford / Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Potter has failed to do that. Instead, Neal Maupay endured a three-month goal drought, during which he was dropped from the squad completely for discipline issues. Aaron Connolly has one goal to his name all season. Since November, Leandro Trossard has looked a shadow of the talent he was post-lockdown and at the start of 2020/21 and Alireza Jahanbakhsh has barely had a look-in.

Brighton did sign Danny Welbeck, but that was a transfer completed only once the window had shut and the ex-England striker had been released by Watford. It was a deal born out of convenience more than anything else. Welbeck needed a club, Brighton needed reinforcements, here is a performance-incentivised, one-year contract which is risk free for both parties.

Welbeck has two goals to his name, has shown flashes of his old self and does at least appear to know how to finish a chance. His game time has to be carefully managed however and he has not truly addressed the problems Brighton have when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net.

Glenn Murray has made just one start on loan at Watford in the first half of the 2020/21 Championship season
Glenn Murray has made just one start on loan at Watford in the first half of the 2020/21 Championship season / Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Which is why there is now a growing clamour among Brighton supporters for the return of Glenn Murray. The 37-year-old joined Watford on loan for the season but has barely had a sniff at Vicarage Road with former Hornets boss Vladimir Ivić handing Murray just one Championship start and four substitute appearances. Murray is yet to feature under the latest incumbent in the Vicarage Road hot seat, Xisco.

According to reports, Watford are set to cut their losses on Murray and terminate his loan early. Could that could lead to a romantic return to the Amex and one final swansong for the Seagulls' second highest scorer of all time in firing them to Premier League safety?

Alireza Jahanbakhsh heads against the bar from three yards out for Brighton against Sheffield United
Alireza Jahanbakhsh heads against the bar from three yards out for Brighton against Sheffield United / Pool/Getty Images

It is not hard to see why some Brighton fans view Murray as the answer.

Take the Seagulls' 1-1 draw with rock bottom Sheffield United for example. Connolly defied the laws of geometry by heading a cross high and wide from two yards out in the middle of an open goal. In the final seconds, Alireza Jahanbakhsh then put a free header against the bar from three yards. They are just two examples of the sort of chances that Brighton's current roster of strikers are unable to put away which Murray would eat for breakfast.

Getting old has never impacted on Murray's ability. Even when he first signed for Brighton in January 2008 for £300,000 from Rochdale, he never relied on pace. His game has always been about hold up play, intelligence and being in the right place at the right time. That he scores so many goals is because of his prowess as a finisher. In the 2018/19 campaign, Murray was the third most clinical striker in the Premier League, putting away 24.1% of the chances he had. Only Anthony Martial and Sadio Mane were more deadly; Murray's conversion rate put him ahead of Mo Salah, Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Judging by how little game time he afforded Glenn Murray in the 2019/20 season, Graham Potter was not a fan of the veteran striker
Judging by how little game time he afforded Glenn Murray in the 2019/20 season, Graham Potter was not a fan of the veteran striker / ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

For whatever reason, Potter never really took to Murray after his appointment as Seagulls boss in May 2019. Murray was barely used in the 2019/20 season by Brighton, despite the fact that he showed his worth whenever he was called upon. On the rare occasions Potter started him in the second half of the season, he scored a late equaliser to rescue a 3-3 draw at West Ham United in February and teed up Maupay as Brighton drew 1-1 with in-form Southampton in July. Murray and Maupay in tandem caused the Saints real problems that night, making it all the more bizarre that a potentially potent partnership between the two was hardly given an opportunity.

It is Potter's disliking of Murray which makes the prospect of a fairy tale return unlikely. One of the most ridiculous tactical decisions taken by Potter in his reign so far - and there is plenty of competition for that accolade - came away at Bournemouth last January, when he threw on Solly March and Leandro Trossard as out-and-out wingers to deliver crosses for Aaron Connolly whilst Murray remained an unused substitute. The fact that Potter would rather rely on the aerial ability of 5'6 striker than the target man skillset of Murray was telling.

That there is even talk of Murray being the man to turn Brighton's season around does not reflect well on the club's transfer dealings in the striker department. This of course is nothing new; ever since Gus Poyet allowed Murray to leave for Crystal Palace in the summer of 2011, the Seagulls have been trying to replace him with little to no success.

Glenn Murray scored 36.1% of Brighton's Premier League goals in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons
Glenn Murray scored 36.1% of Brighton's Premier League goals in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons / Steve Bardens/Getty Images

Leonardo Ulloa filled the void for 18 months between January 2013 and his sale to Leicester City in the summer of 2014. Brighton though never really found an heir to Murray until re-signing Murray himself from Bournemouth in 2016. Potter may have decided that he does not rate the veteran, but he too has been unable to find anyone to score the goals that Murray did when firing Brighton to promotion and then keeping them in the top flight almost single-handedly under Chris Hughton. Over the course of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, Murray scored 36% of the Seagulls' goals in the top flight - the highest amount one player has ever contributed to a single team since the Premier League was formed in 1992.

When you see Murray's output in cold, hard figures like that 36% or his 24.1% conversion rate, you begin to understand why Brighton fans are wondering if the answer to their scoring problems might not be found with a player their club already owns.

Unfortunately for those pining for a romantic return, it is the opinion of only one man who matters - Potter - and he has made his position on Murray perfectly clear.

facebooktwitterreddit