Glenn Murray’s stoppage time penalty meant Southampton had to settle for a draw, as they saw their 2 goal lead vanish to the hands of a Brighton side who were revitalised in the 2nd half.
Mark Hughes named an unchanged team following the Saints’ first Premier League victory of the season at Crystal Palace last time out before the international break, with forward Shane Long deemed fit start alongside Danny Ings after carrying a knock days prior to kick off.
Fans were treated to a spectacular light show as the teams walked out onto the pitch, building the anticipation of a Monday night match that didn’t disappoint neutrals watching on, but gave Saints supporters a reason to scratch their heads and wonder what could have been.
Whilst both teams were wasteful on the ball and lacking a quality pass, Southampton were the ones to create the first chance. Nathan Redmond found space on the left, using his weak foot to lift a ball into the area for Long to find his headed attempt in the hands of Mat Ryan at the back post.
An equally average Brighton had their first bite at the game when Solly March escaped down the left, intelligently picking out Anthony Knockaert, whose low shot was blocked by Højbjerg with relative ease, before Saints spurned a dead-ball opportunity as Mohamed Elyounoussi overhit a free-kick from a decent crossing position.
Through Nathan Redmond’s budding influence in going forward, the home side began to grow into the game, as the no. 22 played the ball into Ings on the edge of the box, whose deflected shot forced a corner. Hojbjerb fired just wide after a pinball affair on Brighton’s 6 yard box, where Ings and Mohamed Elyounoussi had attempts blocked in quick succession.
Brighton became sloppy game on and off the ball, misplacing passes and leaving pockets of space to allow the Reds to roam and create, with a Redmond cross un-noticed by a sleeping Gaëtan Bong, who was lucky to helplessly watch Elyounoussi head wide.
It was Mario Lemina’s energy that was a noticeable presence in the middle of the park, whose pressing helped drive Southampton to their first goal of the game.
Retaining possession off the Seagulls in the centre circle, a lay off into Elyounoussi was followed by the Norwegian failing to deliver a cross, where Shane Duffy’s clearing header fell to the feet of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg around 35 yards out. The Dane then set himself brilliantly with a first touch to kill the pace of the ball, before bending it sweetly into Ryan’s bottom right corner, rippling the net elegantly to bring awe to the eyes of Saints, bewildered by the sheer excellence of the strike.
Deservedly ahead, Southampton saw out the half in complete control, winning every first and second ball. Bissouma for Brighton expressed his frustration at his teams lack of chances by slicing a shot wide before the half time whistle.
The only concern for Hughes at the break would have been the precarious nature of Saints’ lead, therefore predictably, Brighton looked sharper at the start of the second half, having been way off the pace in the first. A couple of chances from Davy Pröpper and Anthony Knockaert respectively portrayed a noticeable shift in quality from the visitors, before Long’s failed execution of a counter attacking chance showed the Saints weren’t going to be a pushover.
Having weathered Brighton’s flurry of opportunities, the home side had clawed out a penalty through a positive passage of play. Danny Ings’ drive into the box from Cedric’s supply led to Bong making a misjudged challenge to bring the Englishman down, who stepped up himself to make it 2-0 with a cleanly dispatched effort to Ryan’s right hand side; his 3rd of the season.
That was nullified minutes later however, as a free kick on Brighton’s right hand side swung in by Knockaert was watched by Shane Duffy and nodded home neatly, snapping the Saints supporters out of their ecstasy.
Exchanges in the final 20 minutes were very end to end. The apparent mentality was that attack was the best form of defence, as the Reds tried to catch Brighton on the counter attack time after time, bombing forward persistently with no real luck.
Brighton took on this initiative and got better results. It was after forcing a fantastic save from Alex McCarthy that a proceeding corner saw James Ward-Prowse bring down Duffy, and referee Anthony Taylor broke Saints hearts by pointing to the spot.
Up stepped Murray who made no mistake, shooting straight down the middle as McCarthy dived in vain to his left.
There was time for one last chance, as Bertrand saw a sweet free-kick pushed aside by Ryan, before Brighton celebrated a draw that must have felt like a victory.
Though beginning the game positively, and certainly not being played off the park in the second half, the Saints will feel downhearted by letting their 2 goal advantage slip though their fingers, where game management in the latter stage of games will be a key focus point before their trip to Anfield on Saturday.