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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Grounded Brighton show merits of resolve and redoubtable characters against neighbours Southampton

Journeyman Glenn Murray cancels out Steven Davis' effort at the Amex Stadium

Southampton's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, centre, in action with Brighton's Dale Stephens and Anthony Knockaert. Tony O'Brien / Reuters
Southampton's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, centre, in action with Brighton's Dale Stephens and Anthony Knockaert. Tony O'Brien / Reuters

It was the most expensive summer in Brighton & Hove Albion’s history. They spent some £42 million (Dh203m), broke the club transfer record and ended with a sense their spending spree was sadly incomplete. They had full-backs and midfielders, a goalkeeper and a winger, but no striker. They had tried for Tammy Abraham and Vincent Janssen, among others, and ended up with no one.

Two months on, they owe their station in mid-table to their capacity to compensate and the enduring excellence of one who could be pigeonholed as a lower-league journeyman. Glenn Murray turned 34 in September and is approaching 200 career goals, the vast majority delivered further down the footballing pyramid. But his third in two games rescued a point against Southampton. The veteran has been valiant in filling a void.

Murray played when these clubs met in League One six years ago but goalscoring seems a transferable skill. He was aided, though, because Chris Hughton did add some productivity. Pascal Gross cost a mere £2.7 million and the No 10 is shaping up as one of the bargains of the season. “He makes my job a lot easier,” Murray said.

The German fashioned the most chances in the Bundesliga last season but, perhaps due to the profligacy of his Ingolstadt teammates, only recorded four assists. He has topped that tally already for Albion. A fifth came with a looping cross that Murray met with a back-post header. Fraser Forster was slow to react. This seemed another goal that the under-performing Southampton keeper perhaps ought to have saved.

“I was delighted with the response,” Hughton said. This was the first point Brighton have rescued after going behind and meant that, since their opening-day defeat to Manchester City, Albion have procured eight points from four home games.

An essentially orthodox thinker is plotting a conventional path to safety. “We always felt the home form would be a defining factor,” Hughton said. It can assume a greater importance for promoted clubs – Burnley took 83 per cent of their points at Turf Moor last season – and Brighton, who posted the best home record in the Championship last season, have shown solidity and spirit in front of their fans.

“We feel like a mid-table side from the way we have conducted ourselves,” said Hughton, but whereas he has a well-drilled outfit, others have more talent.

The opener amounted to an illustration of the depth of Southampton’s squad. They were without the injured Mario Lemina, the £18 million midfielder who has been arguably their outstanding player this season. James Ward-Prowse replaced him and a player whose set-pieces have long drawn comparisons with David Beckham delivered a menacing free kick. It rebounded back off the bar and Steven Davis headed in the rebound.

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Murray’s leveller denied Mauricio Pellegrino the vindication of a clean sheet after he changed his defence. Keeping Virgil van Dijk and buying Wesley Hoedt brought congestion at the front of the queue for places. The two Dutchmen were paired for the first time, the in-form Maya Yoshida demoted.

“The goal was a bit unlucky as the ball deflected a little bit,” said the Southampton manager.

He has had an underwhelming start and pronounced himself “a little bit disappointed” with the result. He is still searching for a winning formula.

Pellegrino started Sofiane Boufal, whose wondrous solo goal against West Bromwich Albion was followed by a celebration that amounted to dissent at his manager’s decision to bench him initially. The reason the former club record buy was marginalised, however, was that his brilliance is so sporadic, his other contributions so undistinguished. He reverted to type in Sussex, offering little.

Brighton, with less flair and more constancy, showed the merits of resolve and redoubtable characters grounded in less glamorous divisions to earn their point.

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