Hughton, we have a problem. Not since Count Dracula has there been anything in the world more scared of crosses than Brighton in the 2017/18 Premier League season.
Saturday’s defeat at Crystal Palace saw the Albion concede in the fifth minute after failing to deal with a Luka Milivojevic short corner that was turned in by Wilfried Zaha; the 14th minute after failing to deal with a long corner to the far post where James Tomkins eventually smashed home and the 24th minute when a Milivojevic cross found Zaha completely unmarked to head home.
Simple stuff that cost three goals and arguably three very big points against not just a relegation rival, but our arch rivals as well. If we were able to write this off as a one-off then maybe, just maybe, it would be acceptable – but we can’t. Conceding cheap goals like this has been a recurring theme throughout the season.
Unfortunately, I’ve only got 500 words or so to play with here so we can’t have a detailed analysis of every goal conceded from a cross or set-piece this season. That and I don’t fancy still sitting here trying to write this column when I’m 75. The very basic list of goals that have resulted from set-pieces or crosses this season though reads something like this:
Leicester away, Harry Maguire free header from a corner. West Brom home, Oliver Burke heads down cross to James Morrison to smash home. Everton home, Bruno can’t defend a free kick so elbows Dominc Calvert-Lewin in the face to concede a penalty which Wayne Rooney scores. Stoke home, Kurt Zouma free header.
Manchester United away, corner not cleared leading to Lewis Dunk own goal. Liverpool home, Emre Can free header from a corner. Huddersfield away, two Steve Mounie goals from balls into the box. Spurs away, Serge Aurier scores direct from a cross and Son Heung-min with a header from a free kick.
Chelsea away, Alvaro Morata with a header and Marcus Alonso from a corner. Bournemouth home, Steve Cook heads home a corner and Callum Wilson a shot after a corner isn’t cleared. West Brom away, Jonny Evans and Craig Dawson both score from corners. Southampton away, Jack Stephens turns home a free kick. Everton away and Gaetan Bong’s own goal comes from a Yannick Bolasie cross. Leicester home, Vicente Iborra heads home a Ben Chilwell cross. Followed by Saturday’s debacle. I’m writing before we’ve played Spurs on Tuesday as well, so the list might be even more exhaustive as you are reading this.
That makes for a grand total of 22 of our 46 goals conceded this season having come from crosses or set-pieces. In terms of points, you can make a case that 16 points have been lost.
With those on the board, we’d be on 51 points, one behind Burnley in seventh and dreaming of a possible Europa League tour rather than still sweating about what division we’ll be in next season.
So, what’s the answer? It’s almost sacrilege to question Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy but the statistics don’t exactly shine a good light on them. While replacing one with an expensive centre-half upgrade would be harsh given the service they’ve given in getting us into the Premier League, time waits for no defending and you constantly need to be improving to move forward. It’s a dog-eat-dog world.
Likewise, with that number of crosses coming into the box then are the full-backs doing their jobs? Ezequiel Schelotto and Gaetan Bong were both poor at Palace and that might be another area that Chris Hughton needs to address next summer.
Whatever the answer, a lot of supporters are blaming the fact we aren’t yet safe on our lack of goals. True, we haven’t scored enough, particularly away from home, but the number of opposition goals that have gone in from crosses far outweighs any misfiring forwards.
Saturday was just the tip of the iceberg – it’s a problem that the Albion need to sort and fast.