Oscar Garcia’s slick Spanish style took on Steve Bruce’s traditional bullish English approach at the Amex on Monday evening in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Which ended victorious? Neither. The drastically different styles cancelled each other out and the two will go toe-to-toe again at the KC Stadium next Tuesday.
Garcia prowls his technical area, his tan leather shoes pacing the perimeters, surveying his team’s performance with the occasional explosive hand gestures pouring out as he orchestrates his players. It was business as usual for Brighton, lots of chances created without being clinical enough to put the game to bed. This drew many scowls as the Spaniard turned to his assistant Nathan Jones, curling his top lip and thrusting his arms out in frustration, before recomposing himself and his jet-black hair.
Five meters away stood Steve Bruce. Typically presented with his Tigers’ tracksuit and white trainers, Bruce also stood at the edge of his technical area. Nikita Jelavic and Shane Long, City’s winter window signings, were cup-tied and so relying on the old guard became something of a test for the Tigers; and Bruce didn’t have much in reinforcements. As the clock ticked away the three-time winner of the FA Cup as a player would glance back at his substitutes bench and scrunch that wonky nose of his up as options proved to be lacking.
Bar Burnley and Queens Park Rangers, Brighton have the best defensive record in the SkyBet Championship; something Yannick Sagbo and Sone Aluko found out on Monday evening. The fact that Sagbo’s equaliser five minutes from time was Albion’s first goal conceded at the Amex from open play in twelve hours and thirty six minutes proved that whilst Garcia’s side has a beauty in their style, there is a steeliness to their core.
The styles of the two dugouts mirrored in their team’s performances. Garcia’s Brighton played the ball out from the back almost every time; his defenders were comfortable on the ball even when under pressure and the one-touch interplay between the men in blue and white was a polished piece.
But it was a touch of class from Sagbo after twenty-seven minutes which looked likely to put the Premier League side in the lead. The Ivorian striker rather unorthodoxly twisted his body to hook Ahmed El-Mohamady’s cross onto Peter Brezovan’s crossbar.
Three minutes later the deadlock was broken, but it was the Championship team who took the lead. Playing a neat one-two with Will Buckley in the middle third, Leonardo Ulloa found he was goal side of Curtis Davies and accelerated away from the centre back, dinking over the on-coming McGregor and peeling away to celebrate his third goal in nine days for the Seagulls.
Having been at fault for Albion’s opener, Davies looked to make amends moments later as he made a clean connection with a Tom Huddlestone corner, only to watch it crash off the crossbar for a second time in the game.
Garcia’s side should have created some daylight between the two sides moments before the break. Another delightfully constructed attack led to Buckley tearing down the right, the winger pulled his cross back to the unmarked Ulloa but he sent his header whistling past McGregor’s post. Cue Garcia spinning on his Italian leather shoes and scowling at his assistants.
Whether it was sensible, due to Buckley’s return from injury, or radical, Garcia replaced the 24-year-old with Solly March. The 18-year-old is quite a talent. He oozes confidence every time he steps onto the pitch and despite opposition from the top-tier of English football and the BT Sport camera’s on him, March produced another exciting performance for his audience.
The first chance he got he cut in from the right hand side and unleashed a powerful drive which failed to trouble the Hull keeper but showed the teenagers’ intent. Soon after he was causing Maynor Figueroa more problems, a couple of step-overs and he laid the ball back to Inigo Calderon who ballooned his shot over the bar.
It was not the first time Garcia rued missed chances. A hopeful ball was whipped into the box by Aluko, Sagbo latched onto it and slid his shot under Brezovan into the back of the Albion net. It may have been a neat finish but it wasn’t a pretty performance from Hull; that won’t worry their manager though as their dream lives to fight another day.
For Albion, with former-manager Gus Poyet, waiting in the quarter-final for the winner of the replay, there is more than an incentive for the Seagulls to put their fluid football up against gritty Hull and come out victorious next Tuesday.
Brighton: Brezovan, Calderon, Dunk, Upson, Chicksen, Ince, Andrews, Forster-Caskey, Buckley (March 45), LuaLua (Rodriguez 89), Ulloa (Obika 77)
Subs not used: Ankergren, Bruno, Greer, Lopez
Goal(s): Ulloa 30
Hull: McGregor, El-Mohamady, Davies, Faye (Boyd 65), Figueroa, Huddlestone, Livermore (Meyler 81), Quinn (Fryatt 65), Koren, Aluko, Sagbo
Subs not used: Harper, Bruce, Chester, Henderson
Booked: Koran, Aluko
Goal(s): Sagbo 85
Man of the Match: Sagbo
Written by Tom Roddy.