Chris Hughton’s disappointment at Brighton’s failure to bring in a forward at the end of the transfer window was tempered by a display that provided a positive response to concerns his side lacked the necessary firepower to make an impact on the Premier League.
Without a goal in their opening three games, Hughton’s team, and in particular Pascal Gross, finally ignited their campaign. Gross, a £3 m signing from Ingolstadt, scored twice, his opener marking Brighton’s first top-flight goal since May 1983, and set up Tomer Hemed for the third, confirming Albion’s superiority over a desperately poor West Bromwich Albion side who could muster only a late James Morrison effort by way of reply.
The reaction when Gross broke the deadlock seconds before the interval was telling. August had confirmed the scale of the task confronting Hughton’s newly-promoted side but this was exactly what the Amex Stadium needed to strengthen belief.
For West Brom, though, there were few positives to take from a display that was at odds to the positive start made by Tony Pulis’s side who started the day knowing it was possible they might spend Saturday night at the top of the table.
Matt Phillips attempts to get past Liam Rosenior (Getty)
The pattern of the game was established early in the first half when Hughton’s side pressed forward at will, moving easily through the central midfield areas where Grzegorz Krychowiak made little impact on his West Brom debut following a loan move from Paris Saint-Germain. Solly March and Anthony Knockaert made progress down the flanks for the home side but Brighton’s attacks lacked a cutting edge against a visiting defence strengthened by the return of Jonny Evans, a target for Arsenal and Manchester City last week.
Shane Duffy thought he claimed the honour of opening his side’s Premier League account when he turned the ball home after Ben Foster could only parry March’s 13th minute shot but the Ireland defender had strayed offside.
While Hughton was entitled to wonder when his side would transform their dominance into goals, he could at least be satisfied West Brom offered little as a threat going forward with Gareth Barry’s long-range shot their only meaningful attempt on goal.
It became increasingly likely Brighton’s steady pressure would yield results and while Gross benefited from a deflection when he finally broke the deadlock immediately before half-time, the goal was no more than Hughton’s side deserved. The German started the move, switching play superbly with a crossfield pass to March, before finding himself with enough time and space to meet March’s cross at the far post and direct his shot past Foster off the leg of Evans.
Tomer Hemed scores Brighton’s third goal (Getty)
Pulis had been growing increasingly agitated on the touchline and no doubt made his feelings known at half-time. But any plans the manager may have made were quickly undone as Gross added his second three minutes after the restart. This time the German benefited from a clever lay-off from Hemed before sending a low shot inside the far post from 25 yards out.
Roles were reversed in the 63rd minute when the pair again combined to put the game beyond West Brom’s reach. Gross collected March’s pass on the left hand flank and sent a cross towards the near post to where Hemed stooped to head home in off the post.
West Brom finally injected some life into their play in the final twenty minutes, and their three substitutes combined for a 77th minute reply. Kieran Gibbs’s left wing cross was headed down by Oliver Burke and Morrison completed the move with a first time volley.
Brighton (4-2-3-1): Ryan 7; Bruno 6 (Rosenior 62, 6), Duffy 7, Dunk 7, Suttner 7; Stephens 8, Propper 7; Knockaert 7, Gross 9, March 8; Hemed 7 (Murray 82).
West Bromwich Albion (4-3-3): Foster 5; Dawson 6, Evans 6, Hegazi 5 (Gibbs 55,6), Nyom 6; Livermore 5 (Morrison 71, 7), Krychowiak 5, Barry 6; Phillips 6, Rondon 4 (Burke 56, 7), Rodriguez 6.