- Albion begin pre-season with a draw
- Nassim Ben Khalifa breaks the deadlock for St Gallen
- Tomer Hemed's header claims a share of the spoils
- Anthony Knockaert comes close to securing a win in stoppage time
Brighton & Hove Albion made a decent start to their pre-season schedule this afternoon in the Swiss city of St Gallen, drawing 1-1 in the Kybunpark, thanks to Tomer Hemed's second-half header.
Their first game of a four-week warm-up schedule came against Swiss opponents and Albion were the better side across the 90 minutes, and unfortunate not to come away with the win, against a St Gallen side who are much further ahead in their pre-season preparations than the Seagulls.
Chris Hughton isn’t one to place too much emphasis on friendly results, but he will have been pleased with the performance from two makeshift line ups in either half, with the Seagulls somewhat depleted due to minor injuries and extended rest periods for several players.
They were without new goalkeeper Jason Steele, fellow new recruit Florin Andone, and central defender Shane Duffy. The trio had each endured a week’s hard graft in the Austrian town of Schruns, but were not risked in match action.
Also missing were the club’s World Cup trio of Mat Ryan, Jose Izquierdo and Leon Balogun; they report back in due course, having been given additional time off for rest and recovery after returning from Russia.
With match fitness the priority for Albion at this stage, Hughton opted for a basic 4-4-2 system throughout the 90 minutes, with Pascal Gross operating on the right flank in the first half, and the 50-odd travelling fans got their first glimpses of the club’s Brazilian summer signing Bernardo at right-back.
With Steele suffering with a slight thigh problem, Christian Walton - yet to link up with Wigan Athletic, following his loan transfer back to the DW Stadium - began in goal. The Cornish giant will head to the north-west on Monday, having spent the first two weeks of pre-season working under the tutorage of Ben Roberts and Casper Ankergren.
Sam Baldock partnered last season’s leading marksman Glenn Murray in attack, and it was Baldock who created the first opening inside the first ten minutes, after a quick free kick from Gross found him in space on the right. His ball into the box was met by the head of Lewis Dunk, but the effort dropped wide of the right post.
St Gallen, only one week away from their season opener against Basel, are in the final throes of their pre-season campaign, and their first chance came through striker Nassim Ben Khalifa, who found space on the edge of the box, but saw his speculative effort flash wide of the upright.
Albion survived a scare in the 13th minute, when a loose pass by Walton was pounced on by Yannis Tafer, who then hit the post. Bernardo blocked a follow-up shot, before Ben White cleared off the line.
A clever Cryuff-style turn by Gross gave him the opportunity to escape down the right and float a clever ball into the box; Baldock did well to out-jump the centre half, and nod the ball down for Murray, whose effort was just too high and ended on the roof of the goal net.
Murray limped off just after the half-hour mark, with young Swedish striker Viktor Gyokeres on in his place. The injury didn’t look too serious, and perhaps more due to the strains of a week of intense fitness work.
Baldock very nearly profited from a headed back pass from Silvan Hefti, but keeper Dean Stojanovic was alert enough to be smartly off his line to gather at the feet of the Albion striker to avert the danger.
The hosts responded with two chances in quick succession, first Majeed Ashimeru broke through from midfield and found himself one on one with the onrushing Walton, he slid the ball past the Albion keeper, but his shot didn’t have enough power, and White was able to get back and clear with some ease.
Moments later Khalifa found the chance to shoot inside the box on the right, and his ferocious effort stung the palms of Walton. He was able to push it away to safety, but the reprieve was short lived as the hosts went ahead through the dangerman Khalifa in the 44th minute.
The St Gallen striker got on the end of an excellent deep cross from Tafer on the right wing, and did well to find space at the far post and head the ball in across goal from a tight angle at the far post.
Albion rung the changes at the break, and rather than head to the dressing room, Hughton watched his second-half line-up go through a vigorous on-pitch warm up - and only Walton and Gyokeres - now operating on the left wing - reappeared for the second half.
With Duffy watching from the stands and Balogun on extended leave, Bruno partnered young defender Ben Barclay at the heart of defence, while Ollie Norwood - who spent last season helping Fulham win promotion to the Premier League - made his first appearance in an Albion shirt for almost a year, alongside Davy Propper in midfield.
The home side also made seven changes at the break, sticking with the same back four for the second half, but changing all other personnel.
Albion levelled just before the hour mark. Knockaert’s mazy dribble down the right saw him skip past one defender and gave him a sight of goal, but his shot was blocked by Leonel Mesovich at the expense of a corner - and from the resultant kick, Norwood’s right-wing delivery was powerfully headed home by Hemed.
The Seagulls went in search of a winning goal, and Jurgen Locadia spotted Gyokeres in plenty of space on the left, and he swept a lovely pass out wide. The Swede drove into the box, sidestepped a challenge but his shot was straight at Daniel Loper, who had replaced Stojanovic in the St Gallen goal.
Then, Knockaert’s teasing cross took a slight deflection, enough to take it away from Barclay at the far post and out for a corner on the left. Markus Suttner’s corner also found the head of Hemed, but this time Lopar went full length to push away another powerful effort to safety.
Hugo Keto - on in place of Walton in the 62nd minute - was eventually called into action in the 81st minute, when Stjepan Kukuruzovic struck a fierce effort from the edge of the box, which the former Arsenal keeper parried away, and Roman Buess smashed the follow up high over the bar.
Lopar made a brilliant sprawling save to deny Knockaert with five minutes left to play. Propper intercepted a poor pass by Betim Fazliji and slid a perfect pass through to the Frenchman, but Lopar came out smartly and spread his body, getting enough on the ball to divert it over the bar.
Knockaert went close again in stoppage time as he collected a clearance from an Albion corner, showed great speed of thought to work an angle and saw his low left-footed effort flash across goal and just wide of the right post.
ALBION (first half): Walton (GK); Bernardo, White, Dunk, Bong; Kayal, Stephens, Gross, March; Baldock, Murray (Gyokeres 34).
SUBS NOT USED: Keto (GK), Barclay, Towell, Skalak.
ALBION (second half): Walton (GK) (Keto 62); Schelotto, Bruno (c), Barclay, Suttner; Knockaert, Norwood, Propper, Locadia; Gyokeres, Hemed.
SUBS NOT USED: Towell, Skalak.