Another Saturday, another painfully excellent display by a visiting goalkeeper. But although most of the writers in the Amex press box heaped justified praise on Burnley’s Tom Heaton, some also pinpointed the fact that good fortune seems to have deserted the Albion in recent Premier League matches.
Saj Chowdhury on the BBC website wrote:
“Two months ago on a similarly wet evening, 10-man Brighton swept aside Crystal Palace 3-1 to sit in 10th spot in the Premier League,” he wrote. “Back then they were 12 points clear of the Clarets.
“Since then the statistics have been ugly reading for Chris Hughton's side, with one win and seven defeats in 11 games.
“Perhaps they knew it was not going to be their day once again following a first half where nearly everything went against them.
“There was Dunk's slip to allow Wood a free run on goal alongside Heaton's superhuman feats in goal, and then McNeil's apparent block with the arm of Duffy's acrobatic effort.
“That incident happened at lightning speed, but perhaps referee Stuart Attwell or one of his officials should have spotted [Jeff] Hendrick's use of the arm to control the ball in the second half.”
Ian Winrow pointed out in the Sunday Telegraph that the result left “two teams now side by side in the table, three points above the relegation places, but on very different runs of form.
“Inspired goalkeeping by Tom Heaton helped lay the foundations for a win that extended Burnley’s unbeaten run to seven games. For Brighton, though, defeat means they have tasted victory just once in their last 11 league games and are in dire need of a lift.
“Chris Hughton, Brighton’s manager, believed the turning point came when ref Stuart Attwell failed to spot a Jeff Hendrick handball inside the Burnley penalty area just before Barnes scored after being brought down by Mat Ryan, the Brighton goalkeeper.
“The decision was the pivotal moment in the game,” he said. “We’ve got games coming up against teams not in the top six but it seems every period coming up is a pivotal period. We’ve just got to dust ourselves down and get points from the next game.”
Adam Sherwin of the Mail on Sunday focused on the tightening-up of the situation towards the foot of the table.
“Let's hope nobody at the bottom end of the Premier League suffers from claustrophobia,” he wrote. “It seems to become more and more congested by the week, with just three points splitting Crystal Palace in 13th and Southampton in 18th.
“So if you consider Huddersfield already doomed and Fulham pretty much written off, the thinnest of margins will now determine the fate of the six clubs above them gasping for air.
“Fine margins like Lewis Dunk slipping at the crucial moment to allow a Burnley goal, or two former players in Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes coming back to haunt you.
“While Wood's double and Barnes's penalty had Burnley surging three places up the standings, it's an increasingly desperate situation for Brighton, who remain winless in the Premier League in 2019 and have been sucked into the mire.
“Cardiff's last-gasp winner at Southampton dumped Burnley into the bottom three at kick-off and the visitors started as though awaking with a start to relegation reality.”
Mark Irwin of The Sun noted that fortune has suddenly turned for Burnley where penalties are concerned, and how much they have improved since the return of Tom Heaton between the posts.
He wrote: “You wait 22 months for a Premier League penalty and then you get two in the space of eight days.
“Revitalised Burnley are powering their way clear of the relegation dogfight on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run.
“But anxious Brighton are being dragged deeper and deeper into trouble as their wait for their first League win of 2019 goes on.
“Cardiff’s dramatic late win at Southampton had meant that Burnley found themselves back in the relegation zone at kick-off despite their recent revival.
“And they would have been even deeper in trouble but for keeper Tom Heaton’s early heroics.
“It is no coincidence that there has been such a dramatic improvement in Burnley’s form since Heaton returned to their starting line-up at the end of last year.
“The England international missed almost all of last season with a serious shoulder problem and looked to be on his way out of Turf Moor when he returned from injury to find himself playing second fiddle to Joe Hart.
“But a Boxing Day hammering at Everton convinced Sean Dyche that it was time for a change of keeper and his team haven’t looked back since.
“Twice in the first three minutes, the visitors were grateful for Heaton’s intervention as he tipped over a firm header from Solly March before throwing himself across goal to palm away Pascal Gross’ thunderbolt.
“Yet neither save compared to the lightning-quick reflexes required to divert March’s goal-bound effort for a corner midway through the first-half.
“But it was not until the 26th minute that the true value of Heaton’s athleticism emerged when Burnley seized the lead with a classic goal on the counter.
“Ashley Barnes’s clever turn and first-time pass allowed Chris Wood to take full advantage of Lewis Dunk’s slip to run in on goal unchallenged.”
Ed Elliott of the Press Association took up the story on The Guardian website.
“Winger March was arguably Albion's best player in the first half but he was substituted early in the second period due to an apparent injury.
“Without him, the Seagulls struggled to create and they fell further behind in the 61st minute.
“Teenager McNeil produced a marauding run forward before slipping the ball to his left for Wood to calmly slot into the bottom right corner via the hand of Ryan.
“The Clarets then wrapped up the points in the 74th minute following an action-packed sequence.
“After Hendrick escaped penalty appeals for a possible handball, Barnes broke clear at the other end and was brought down by Ryan before Wood, searching for a hat-trick, slotted wide of the empty net.
“Referee Stuart Attwell brought play back to award the penalty, allowing Barnes, another ex-Brighton player, to stroke the ball into the bottom left corner for his second successful spot-kick in as many games.
“Any hopes of the visitors seeing the game out without incident were dashed just two minutes later though as Duffy rose to head home his fifth league goal of the campaign from Anthony Knockaert's searching free-kick, but Brighton were unable to fight back.”