Crystal Palace 1v1 Brighton - Attwell takes centre stage as derby day spoils are shared
Ashley Barnes salvaged a derby day point for the Seagulls after controversial referee Stuart Attwell took centre stage at Selhurst.
Attwell awarded both sides second half penalties after Will Buckley caught Wilfred Zaha in the box after 64 minutes and was then himself sent sprawling by Nathaniel Clyne with 16 minutes left.
Chris Martin dispatched the Palace penalty – going some way to exorcising the demons of the club’s Carling Cup exit to Cardiff in a shoot-out, while Barnes confidently put away his ninth of the season ten minutes later.
Once level, Brighton looked the more likely to force a winner, only for the game to be spoiled by a string of needless stopages and yellow cards. Attwell, more than any player, had the biggest impact during the closing stages of what was, in all honesty, a far from feisty affair.
In a game of few clear cut chances the home side looked the more likely to take the lead, with Wilfred Zaha – a deadline day transfer target for Premiership Bolton – testing Albion’s makeshift left back Adam El-Abd one more than one occasion.
One jinking run forced Buckley to head narrowly wide of his own goal at the far post while under pressure and shortly before half time Zaha’s snatched effort was well parried by Seagulls stopper Peter Brezovan.
However, despite tensions running high off-the-field, the opening exchanges were fairly drab, with both sides seemingly cancelling each other out in the middle third.
Enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the Albion failed to create many chances of note, with Craig Mackail-Smith seeing his close range effort blocked by Julian Speroni in perhaps the pick of the action.
The hard-working Scottish striker, who would later be replaced by new signing Sam Vokes, spent long periods toiling against Brighton villain-in-the making Paul McShane, adding to the already nagging feeling that Gustavo Poyet has yet to find a formation and style to get the best out of his big money summer arrival.
A livewire goalgrabber by trade, Mackail-Smith was once again forced to spend too much of the match chasing lost causes, harassing defenders and making a nuisance of himself in the way that, while unsettling to defenders, is unlikely to trouble the scoreboard.
Brighton fans will be hoping Vokes can be the elusive frontman to get the best out of Mackail-Smith and his brief cameo at the end of last night’s match did at least suggest that here, finally, was a player who could hold up the play and take on some of the physical demands of frontplay – freeing up Mackail-Smith to hang on the shoulder of the last defender, a role he performed so impressively at Peterborough.
The fact that Vokes replaced the Albion’s record buy was perhaps more indicative of Poyet’s belief that potential joy lay out wide at the feet of Buckley and the again encouraging Torbjorn Agdestein, than any possibility the Wolves loanee may have been recruited to take over from Mackail-Smith rather than support him.
And, just as he was during Saturday’s FA Cup triumph over Newcastle United, Buckley was consistently Brighton’s most potent threat.
A series of teasing second half runs should have reaped better rewards for the flying former Watford winger – although he will have no doubt been mightily relieved to see Attwell point to the spot for the visitor’s penalty having gifted Palace the lead with a reckless leg dangle.
The fact that too often Buckley and, on the other flank, Barnes were left defending in their own box, should be cause for alarm. Poyet likes to set up an attack-minded 433 formation but, when under pressure, it leaves the two attacking widemen back-peddling toward their own goal – not only leaving hearts in mouths when they attempt a tackle, but rendering Mackail-Smith a lonely striking singleton further up the field.
Having notched the equaliser, the Stripes – roared on by a healthy following of just under 3,000 in a disappointing crowd of 17,271 – pushed for the winner which would have helped erase the memory of the team’s 3v1 home defeat earlier in the season, but found Speroni in confident form.
Barnes went close from distance and swashbuckling Spaniard Inigo Calderon almost made himself a hero but saw his 25-yard drive tipped over by the Argentinian custodian.
Had that nestled in the net, the Basque would never again have had to buy a sherry in Sussex. It didn’t and Brighton left slightly the happier, but still nursing a bereft-of-bragging-rights one point from two games against the team they love to hate.