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Chris Hughton's Seagulls fail to soar

BOSS MAN: Brighton boss Chris Hughton

BOTH BRIGHTON and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton and his opposite number Steve Bruce of Aston Villa could each take positives from an easy-on-the-eye encounter on the south coast which ended 1-1.

A point apiece was a fair outcome and does little to diminish the momentum and ambition of either club.

Villa arrived at the AMEX Stadium with a clear game plan to soak up pressure and play on the counter attack. To this end, the visitors sacrificed large swathes of possession for the ability to pounce on the break.

And to some extent the ploy worked. Of the two sides the visitors showed a greater potency with the ball - but without the sustained attacking threat that was required to capitalise.

The Seagull’s defence had not been breached for more than a month and the team was unbeaten in ten games, so Villa’s approach was no surprise.

But what was surprising was that Bruce elected to play Gabriel Agbonlahor in the lone striker role that the system demanded.

This was his first for the errant striker since being unceremoniously striped of the captaincy and banished from the first team squad as Villa spun into freefall last March. His commitment to the cause was called into question and his future at the club looked dim.

But its seems that under Steve Bruce, there is scope for redemption. The manager was bullish when asked to reflect on his reasoning for the surprise inclusion.

“Against Blackburn, [Agbonlahor] was arguably the match winner and the way he has trained over the last two weeks I thought he deserves to start,” Post match, Bruce expressed satisfaction at the striker’s contribution – which lasted just short of an hour before a lack of match fitness took its toll.

There were glimpses of his trademark style – power, pace and promise, but promise unfulfilled has been Agbonlahor’s bugbear.

Villa struck first in the game and with the headlines waiting to be written, it was scripted that Agbonlahor would have a part to play – unfortunately, no one read their lines.
Instead that was left to Albert Adomah to take centre stage. In the 20th minute, the Ghana international, struck a perfectly flighted dead ball into the box. Nathan Baker towered above Brighton defenders to meet it and flick the ball beyond the reach of Brighton goalkeeper Stockdale into the bottom left corner of the net.

Villa showed little sign of consolidating their lead and an equaliser for the home side was always on the cards. It came from a predictable source.

Glenn Murray loves scoring in front of the home fans. The former Crystal Palace man levelled matters with a stinging low drive from the edge of the box on the stroke of half time. It was his tenth goal of the season – all of which have come at the AMEX Community Stadium. The finish was fitting of his150th league goal.

In the second half, the goals dried up, but the introduction of Jack Grealish for the last 30 minutes gave Villa extra zip.

His guile and the energy of man-of-the-match Adomah meant that Stockdale was the far busier of the two goalkeepers. First he was called into action to make a save from a David Kodjia header and then a low shot from Adomah. Kodjia also hit the bar with a header from close range late on.

This was the first league meeting of the two sides for 33 years, whether it features again in next season’s calendar – and in what league - will largely be determined by whether both fulfil their potential - or falter. However, with Villa finally finding their feet - after a dismal record of four wins in 18 months - and Brighton proving resolute in their pursuit of a top two spot, it is hard to image neither one of them will go up.

But Villa did leave the happier. They came away from the AMEX with a point gained, but also a new first team coach. Before the game it was confirmed that Colin Calderwood would be leaving Brighton where he was serving as Hughton’s number two to take up a similar role with Steve Bruce.

How best to describe the Brighton manager’s thoughts on the matter? Nonplussed. Bruce meanwhile, though diplomatic in light of his surrounding, was clearly delighted to have complete his backroom team as Villa look to push on.

Tony Snow on Twitter: @MeesterSnow

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