If there is any consolation to be gained from more depressing reading in the early editions of the morning papers following the 2-0 reverse at the hands of Cardiff City, it is that reading about the Albion’s eventual victories – perhaps over Wolves, maybe Tottenham, possibly Newcastle – will seem so much sweeter after the present bitter diet.
“The gap [from Cardiff] to safety and Brighton has been whittled to two tantalising points,” Dominic Fifield wrote in The Guardian. “Given everything the Welsh club have endured this term, on and off the pitch, to be in such close contention with four games to play would already have seemed miraculous. Now, remarkably, the momentum may actually be with them.
“The panic that gripped the majority inside this arena, players and supporters alike, betrayed as much with the home side overwhelmed by their newfound deficiencies long before the end. Where they wilted abjectly for the second home game in succession, their approach choked by anxiety and all confidence utterly drained away, Cardiff’s players and staff would congregate in front of the away support after the final whistle with belief pepped.”
Mike Walters looked for explanations in his own inimitable style in the Mirror.
“Brighton – 12 points from a possible 51 after Saturday's meltdown against Bournemouth - deserve their own forensic analysis because they had been going downhill faster than the Cresta Run.
“These Seagulls are so tame they wouldn't even nick your chips on the promenade.
“It says much for their collapsing form and haemorrhaging confidence that Hughton turned to 38-year-old club captain Bruno Saltor to apply the emergency tourniquet.
“Bruno's satellite dish and splendid beard were reassuring sights for home fans, a throwback to the days when Brighton's recruitment was more informed than expensive punts on hunches from the continent.
“But with nerves jangling like an ice-cream vendor's loose change on the promenade, this was never going to be a beauty contest.
“Warnock has never settled for artistic merit where earnest scuffling is available, but occasionally Cardiff surprise us by putting out a Da Vinci masterpiece with the recycling.
“And Men of Harlech was in full cry among the visiting contingent when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing collected a return pass from Junior Hoilett to curl a superb opener beyond Mat Ryan from 20 yards.
“It was only Mendez-Laing's second goal of the season, and the Bluebirds' communal celebration with their coaching staff conveyed a renewed sense of belief that the great escape was on.”
The i paper commented: “This was now be a test of Brighton’s mettle and quality, but too often they opted for a long, over-optimistic passes rather than some of the fast, controlled football they had begun with. No heads were dropping and nobody stopped running, but too often players were hoping that a teammate could produce something rather than trying to do it themselves
“A few home fans began to boo as the teams went off at the interval, but they were instantly drowned out by cheers as the fans realised that only by lifting the players did they stand a chance of seeing Brighton rescue the situation. But that prospect disappeared after only four minutes of the second half as Camarasa swung in a free kick from the left and Morrison got behind Dunk to head in.”
Jim White took up the grim story in the Daily Telegraph. “Hughton tried to add some quality to his faltering enterprise, bringing on Florin Andone. On his first burst into the box, pursuing Murray’s downward header, he slipped over. Even as Cardiff raged against the certainty of going down, Brighton were sinking into the mire. The weight of what defeat would mean seemed to be in their boots.
“Jahanbakhsh haplessly ceded possession when well placed, Solly March was snapped into when trying to turn, Murray passed straight to a green shirt. True, Murray blasted just over the bar, March had a sharp run deep into Cardiff territory and a late freekick that drifted beyond the post. But Brighton needed more. They needed precision, accuracy, intelligence. Above all they needed belief.
“Confidence, however, appeared to have been entirely surgically removed.”
Rob Maul of The Sun wrote: Though Chris Hughton’s men have a match in hand – away to Tottenham – they are in free-fall and lacking confidence and morale.
This was their FIFTH straight defeat and given they have to visit Wolves and Arsenal, before a season-ender at home to Man City, it could be argued the momentum is with the Welsh side.”
But he admitted that the Albion could have had the advantage early on. “Nine minutes had passed when Brighton players and fans were screaming in unison for a penalty.
“Cardiff defender Bruno Ecuele Manga brought dragged down Lewis Dunk by the neck as the pair tussled in the penalty box for Pascal Gross’s free-kick.
“Yet the referee Andre Marriner was not convinced, presumably deciding against incurring the wrath of Warnock on that occasion.”
Riath Al-Samarrai agreed in the Daily Mail. He wrote: “Neil Warnock had called for a comeback in the style of Tiger Woods. What he got on an evening of renewed hope was something he considered far more unlikely — a penalty decision in his favour.
“Not just a small one, either. It was a biggie. So significant, perhaps, that when the scrapping is done, it might just trace back as the key moment if Cardiff pull off a great escape and Brighton succumb to a great collapse.
“That is because for all the world it appeared Brighton should have had a penalty at 0-0, 10 minutes in. Bruno Manga had his hands all over Lewis Dunk at a set-piece, clear as day, and when Dunk hit the deck, it was with no little force. It was a pull and a pretty hefty one, but unlike against Chelsea at home and Burnley away, this one went for Cardiff.
“Warnock, for his part, just about agreed, but felt his side were denied one of their own. Some things will never change.
“On Brighton's predicament, Hughton [said]: 'As a team, as a club, and as individual players, there is only one way we can ensure we stay in this division: that's by fighting as hard as we can, making sure that, if we're not able to score the goals we need, that we're not conceding.
“'I do believe we will stay up because I have to. It's in our own hands. It's been a really bad week, and it's not a nice feeling, but we have to use that in whichever way we can to get the points we need to stay in this division’.”
Prove him right, guys.