If ever there was an indication as to why Gus Poyet needs to address his attacking options, this was it.
For large chunks of the 90 minutes on Humberside, Brighton & Hove Albion passed the ball round intelligently, controlling possession but posing little or no threat to the Hull City goal.
While it would be unfair to say Ben Amos’ clean sheet was never in doubt – Craig Mackail-Smith struck the bar and Craig Noone twice went agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock – the fans who had made the long trip to East Ridings could have been forgiven for thinking they had seen all this before.
An away performance with plenty of possession but little penetration. It was the story of many a road trip last season and, frustratingly, looks like being a similar story this time round.
A more varied style of play did at times threaten to unlock the undoubted potential menace of Mackail-Smith but, for all his trademark toil and endeavour, he did not look like adding to his increasingly concerning 10 goals in more than 50 games since joining from Peterborough for a record £2.5million fee.
For large swathes of last season, Poyet persisted in a 433 formation which so often failed to get the ball forward and into the feet of the Scottish livewire early enough. Saturday’s game showed signs that Poyet had finally realised he would have to adjust his purist approach to get the best out of Mackail-Smith. Longer balls were employed at times when, last season, Poyet would have leapt from the bench to howl at his players to keep it on the floor.
It worked, to some extent, and that more direct but no less pleasing on the eye style will surely prove fruitful. This isn’t about knocking hopeful balls forward, rather getting the ball from the back four into the likes of Gary Dicker far more quickly. It gives opponents less time to set up and prevents the centre backs from being isolated in possession.
Nevertheless, despite the improvements, Mackail-Smith – and Brighton – once again drew a blank. Once Hull City had exploited Ashley Barnes’ attempt to cover an out of position Bruno for the only goal of the game, the mumblings among the Albion faithful were that of the need for a new centre forward.
Some spoke of Bobby Zamora – obviously ignoring his £50k plus a week wages, the fact he would be in demand from Premier League clubs if QPR did decide to sell and the reality that, if the Albion could not afford the £2.5million striker in Hull’s line-up, they would certainly be priced out of a move for the one-time Withdean goal-grabber.
Plenty of names have been banded about in recent weeks, not least that of Amex pantomime villain in chief Glenn Murray. The fact is, had Poyet done more to convince Murray to stay put, he probably wouldn’t have needed to splash the cash on Mackail-Smith to start with.
But, move Murray did, and Brighton do not seem to have found a genuine replacement for him. Poyet has long identified the need to find someone to either play alongside Mackail-Smith or replace him at the focal point of the Albion attack.
Mackail-Smith remains a potent threat, but only if the Albion can find a way of playing to his strengths. The defeat at Hull City showed glimpses of a new direction but, even if Mackail-Smith can start finding the net more regularly, the Stripes still need at least one more striker in their squad.
Chairman Tony Bloom told the Albion’s excellent fanzine team (http://theseagulllovereview.blogspot.co.uk/) a new centre forward would arrive before September. He added that it would NOT be Bobby Z.
Whoever it is, their arrival can’t come soon enough.
Kuszczak 7, Bruno 6, Bridge 7, Greer 7, El Abd 7, Dicker 7, Crofts 6, Bridcutt 8, Barnes 5, Mackail-Smith 6, Noone 6. Subs: Lua Lua 7, Agdestein 6.