Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Burnley 3
The wheels have fallen off Chris Hughton’s comfortable mid-table team and the Albion are heading for a spring relegation dog-fight.
For the second week running, the Seagulls found an ex-England goalkeeper at the top of his game.
Tom Heaton has been recalled by Burnley ahead of both Joe Hart and Nick Pope. Just like Ben Foster last week, Heaton acrobatically kept out on-target first-half efforts from Solly March and Glenn Murray.
Albion were just about on top. Burnley were even slightly flattered when a Chris Wood effort, which deflected off Shane Duffy, hit the bar and rebounded to Ashley Barnes who then headed over from six yards with the goal gaping.
Soon after though, it was disaster for Albion as Lewis Dunk slipped and former Seagulls loaner Wood raced away to put the ball past Maty Ryan for 1-0 to the visitors.
Then March again twisted in the area and found Gross but his shot was blocked by Ben Mee.
Despite being behind, Albion were still on top. Murray wriggled free in the area but his shot appeared to be deflected wide by Jack Cork. Referee Stuart Attwell gave a corner but almost 30 seconds later, just as Gross was going to take it, he changed his mind.
Just before half time Gross got a faint touch on a cross but again Heaton managed to turn the ball around the post.
Anthony Knockaert replaced March as the second half began. Knockaert played more centrally than recently.
As Albion pushed men forward, including Lewis Dunk who was playing in a very advanced position, so Burnley broke forward. Barnes slipped the ball through to Wood who made it 2-0 just after the hour mark.
Albion continued to push forward. Yves Bissouma and Ali Jahanbakash replaced Jurgen Locadia and Pascal Gross.
Knockaert and now Jahanbakash were firing balls into the box. One of these looked such a blatant hand ball that it seemed as if Jeff Hendrick had actually caught the ball.
Attwell and his assistant waved appeals away and, with Hendrick looking sheepish, Barnes raced away from inside his own half. With most Albion players having stopped to contest the penalty decision, Ryan came out to meet Barnes, appeared to upend him and Burnley were given a penalty.
Barnes tucked it away for a flattering 3-0 lead.
A Duffy dive reduced the arrears almost immediately but, despite some questionable decisions, Albion just weren’t at the races.
In and around all their time-wasting, Burnley saw the game professionally and are now level on points with Albion who are hovering just three points above the drop zone.
The Albion play Derby in the FA Cup at the Amex next Saturday (16 February) at 12.30pm. A cup run would be great but echoes of 1983 are all too familiar for some fans.
Albion have huge upcoming home Premier League matches in March against Huddersfield, Cardiff and Southampton. Nine points are a must and probably represent safety. Anything else and 34 years of hard work could evaporate in just two seasons.
Was the club’s reluctance to strengthen the senior squad in the January transfer window a little short-sighted and somewhat overconfident?
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