Gallery & Report: Brighton 3 Ipswich Town 2 – Slick Seagulls prevent Blues going top

Noel Hunt is disappointed at Brighton last night

Noel Hunt is disappointed at Brighton last night

Brighton v Ipswich: ‘After you’. ‘No, I insist, after you’ – this is turning into a rather polite Championship promotion race.

Table-toppers Bournemouth left the door open with a 1-0 defeat at Leeds on Tuesday evening, but Ipswich Town had it slammed in their face by a rejuvenated Brighton side tonight.

Mick McCarthy’s men were nowhere near their best in a 3-2 defeat, uncharacteristically slow to close down the ball.

Credit must go to the slick Seagulls though, the likes of Rohan Ince and Joao Teixeira outstanding as Chris Hughton’s much-improved side turned on the style to record only their third home league win of the season.

That’s three defeats in four across all competitions for the Blues. Perhaps this is all part of the masterplan of staying under the radar? The national journalists and interested neutrals who have been attracted to watch the Suffolk side of late are certainly scratching their heads as to how Town are still a point off the top.

Sam Baldock’s fine strike from the edge of the box (19) was quickly cancelled out by Daryl Murphy’s smart near post finish (22), but then outstanding Portuguese playmaker Joao Teixeira took over, scoring in the 35th minute and again seconds before the half-time whistle.

The Seagulls knocked the ball around with confidence after the break, but a momentary lapse in concentration led to substitute Freddie Sears cutting the deficit in the 79th minute and abruptly ending the party atmosphere at The Amex Stadium.

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Murphy stabbed a shot wide in the closing moments, but Brighton held on for a full deserved victory.

McCarthy made just one change to his starting line-up following the 3-1 win at Millwall four days earlier – Cole Skuse, fit again following a three-game absence through illness, replacing Stephen Hunt. New signing, veteran keeper Paddy Kenny, was named among the substitutes, as was Teddy Bishop, the young midfielder available again following illness.

Brighton boss Hughton made four changes to his starting line-up following their 1-0 home defeat against Brentford. Bruno, Aaron Hughes, Joao Teixeira and Chris O’Grady all came in to the side, with top-scoring centre-back Lewis Dunk (suspended), creative midfielder Jake Forster-Caskey (hip), forward Craig Mackail-Smith (ankle) all enforced absentees and Solly March dropping to the bench. New loan signing Leon Best was named among the substitutes, while Greg Halford (calf) also missed out through injury.

Brighton started on the front foot, with the two right-backs – Bruno and an unusually advanced Inigo Calderon – linking up well down the right. Lone striker Chris O’Grady was proving a tricky customer too.

Town, playing a standard 4-4-2 system, quickly began to look a little outnumbered in midfield against a 4-2-3-1 formation and it required a crucial intervention from Luke Chambers in the six-yard box following O’Grady’s low ball in to the area.

The Blues may have lacked their usual in-your-face energy, but Noel Hunt was one player who did stand out with his clever movement up front. Home keeper David Stockdale produced a smart reaction stop from Hunt’s close-range header after Jay Tabb’s cross looped up off a defender’s boot, but the offside flag was up anyway.

It was undoubtedly Brighton who had enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges though and they deservedly broke the deadlock in the 19th minute. Striker Baldock – playing out on the left – drifted inside from the touchline and arrowed a fine right-footed shot across Bartosz Bialkowski. His dramatic pretend faint, as way of a celebration, told you how much he enjoyed the strike.

The home side’s lead lasted less than two minutes. Town worked the ball up the right and, after Hunt’s driven cross, Murphy produced a smooth, first-time volleyed finish at the near post.

The Seagulls refused to let the set-back take the wind out of their sails and it did not take them long to get back on top. Skuse’s blocked clearance almost put O’Grady in the clear as the half hour mark approached, Christophe Berra snuffing out the danger. From the resultant corner, Hunt cleared Ince’s goalbound header off the line.

Moments later, Danny Holla’s free-kick delivery from wide right caused chaos in the box and, after the ball pinged about, O’Grady sliced over from a golden position.

Town keeper Bialkowski was then at full stretch to tip over Aaron Hughes’ header following another fine Holla set-piece delivery.

It was therefore no surprise when Brighton restored their lead in the 38th minute. Teixeira jinked his way along the edge of the box, surrounded by players in blue shirts, and, after skipping past Berra, hit a shot which deflected off Skuse and into the far corner of the net.

Ipswich were looking uncharacteristically disorganised and slow to close down. Brighton, playing with increasing confidence, took full advantage to add a third goal seconds before the half-time whistle.

Joe Bennett played a sharp one-two with Ince down the left and, following a low cut-back, the late-arriving Teixeira was afforded acres of room to steer the ball home with a first-time finish.

Blues boss McCarthy took just five minutes to make a change after the restart, introducing recent signing Freddie Sears for Paul Anderson. Sears went up front with Murphy and Hunt went to right midfield.

It did little to change the flow of the game. Within minutes O’Grady had pulled a shot wide following good work by Calderon. At the other end, Berra completely mis-hit a volley following Jay Tabb’s corner.

Free-roaming midfielder Teixeira continued to pull Town’s players all over the pitch and, after another fine run and pull-back, Baldock drilled a shot straight at Bialkowski. He should have scored.

It didn’t take long for the ‘oles’ to start ringing out around The Amex Stadium. With Arsenal heading to the south coast for an FA Cup fourth round match at the weekend there were chants of ‘Arsene Wenger, we’re coming for you’, as well as a chorus of ‘top of the league, you’re having a laugh’ aimed towards the away end.

The game looked like it was petering out but it was suddenly ‘game on’ after a brief lapse in concentration by the hosts, seconds after Best was introduced for his debut. Bru slipped in Sears and he calmly side-footed home his first goal for the club to set up an intriguing finish.

With the atmosphere having gone from jubilant to edgy, Town went close in the 85th minute. Tyrone Mings’ low cross was half-cleared and Murphy, after getting the ball under control, stabbed a difficult chance just wide of the far post.

There was no late drama though and third-place Town remain a point off the top following two league defeats in three.

IPSWICH TOWN (4-1-2-1-2): Bialkowski; Chambers (cpt), Smith, Berra, Mings; Skuse; Anderson (Sears 50), Tabb; Bru; Murphy, N.Hunt (Bishop 65).

Unused subs: Kenny, Parr, Clarke, Ambrose, S.Hunt.

Booked: N.Hunt (58), Bru (90).

BRIGHTON (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Bruno, Greer (cpt), Hughes, Bennett; Ince, Holla; Calderon, Teixeira (March 85), Baldock; O’Grady (Best 76).

Unused subs: Walton, Rea, Chicksen, Colunga, McCourt.

Booked: Stockdale (90).

Attendance: 23,880 (923 away).

Referee: Keith Stroud.

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