Not for the first time this season, Albion felt hard done-by after a defeat, and the reactions across a range of media supported their view in the wake of a match that featured two disallowed Seagulls goals, three unsuccessful penalty appeals and a second red card of the season for head coach Roberto De Zerbi.
Even the official Twitter account of a well-known bookmaker expressed astonishment at some of the decisions that led to Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 victory, “Amazing how VAR has laser vision when it comes to borderline handballs by Brighton players, but can’t spot a Spurs player standing on an opponent’s foot.”
On the talkSPORT website, Jake Lambourne offered opinions through both the written and spoken word. “Brighton can feel aggrieved following their defeat to Tottenham after being denied on three occasions by VAR,” he wrote.
“A late Harry Kane strike secured the 2-1 win for Spurs in a fiery encounter in north London which saw both managers sent off. But the Seagulls will be left wondering how they haven’t managed to secure at least a draw as their top four hopes were dealt a major blow.
“Japanese winger Kaoru Mitoma thought he had equalised in the 17th minute after controlling the ball before firing home a volley beyond Hugo Lloris. But VAR judged the player to have handled the ball in the build-up, despite replays appearing to show him clearly using his chest.
A difficult day but thank you for your support at Spurs yesterday, Albion fans. 👏 pic.twitter.com/9rsEKqcMHQ— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) April 9, 2023
“Speaking on talkSPORT commentary at the time, commentator Ian Danter said, ‘We’re about to see a replay here… and it’s the shirt line! If it’s the shirt line, that should be given. It was not half way down the line, it’s his shoulder. I thought the shirt line was the law…’
“Before adding, ‘I’m going to have to read the laws of football again, aren’t I, to find out if the shirt line is or isn’t handball. I mean, I give up! I absolutely give up!’
“Brighton were then denied yet again by VAR in the 67th minute after Ivan Perisic was only shown a yellow card despite a two-footed studs-up challenge on Pascal Gross.”
In The Sunday Telegraph, Matt Law also questioned key decisions, writing that “First-team coach Andrea Maldera must be getting used to standing in for De Zerbi on the touchline for Brighton and he could not believe that Kaoru Mitoma was not awarded a penalty after being caught by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
“Mitoma’s second-half penalty appeal, which looked like it should have been given, was Brighton’s second of the game after Clement Lenglet got away with the ball appearing to strike his hand in just the sixth minute after the Japanese forward’s effort had been cleared by Eric Dier.
“There will also be questions asked over whether Mitoma’s first-half goal should have been disallowed. He controlled a pass over the Spurs defence from Alexis Mac Allister with part of his arm that was covered by his shirt sleeve before finishing past Hugo Lloris. The longer Var looked at it, the more likely it seemed the goal would be given and yet it was ruled out for a handball.
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“It was 10 minutes after the half-time break that Brighton had another goal disallowed for handball, this time against Mac Allister after Danny Wellbeck’s shot had deflected past goalkeeper Hugo Lloris off him.
“Other than their goals, Tottenham created very few clear chances and largely played the game on the break with only 35 per cent of possession across the entire 90 minutes.”
Daniel Matthews of The Mail On Sunday was also incredulous at the result. “In the end, against any reasonable explanation, Spurs won it,” he wrote.
“They had led through Son Heung-min’s wonder goal – his 100th in the Premier League – before Lewis Dunk’s header brought Brighton level before half-time. Eleven minutes before the end, however, Harry Kane profited from an error from Kaoru Mitoma to nick all three points. In between, Brighton saw two goals disallowed – both for handball, both contentiously – and three penalty shouts turned down. They were marginal, too.
“First the ball hit Clement Lenglet’s arm. Then Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg trod on Mitoma’s foot. And then, late on, Lenglet had a hold of Dunk’s shirt. None was given.
“Spurs won’t care, despite being outplayed for large parts of this. Perhaps it was fortunate that De Zerbi was hidden away come the final whistle.
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“A vein had begun bulging from the neck of De Zerbi after barely 15 minutes, by which time Brighton were a goal down and already paying the price for bad fortune and bad refereeing. At least in the eyes of their manager.
“The visitors felt Danny Welbeck had been fouled in the build-up. It looked a marginal call, in truth. One that could have gone either way but rarely falls for visitors in grounds like this.
“Neither was as contentious, though, as the handball call against Mitoma which chalked off a first Brighton equaliser. Alexis Mac Allister picked out Mitoma, who cushioned the ball and finished beyond Lloris.
“The assistant referee gave handball, replay after replay confirmed only one thing: the ball struck somewhere between Mitoma’s arm and shoulder. No blurred image or pixelated clip gave a conclusive answer; eventually, the decision stood.
“It became increasingly hard to fathom quite how they were behind. Brighton were the more cohesive, dangerous – better – team. At times they toyed with Tottenham. Mac Allister had a shot beaten out and moments later the outstanding Moises Caicedo struck an effort off the post.
“By then, Spurs had surrendered nearly two thirds of the ball and their lead had evaporated, too. For all the slick interplay that had troubled Tottenham, the equaliser was so simple. Solly March sent a corner to the back post, where Dunk was waiting to head home.
“Half-time did little to break the pattern of this game. Brighton’s collective continued to poke and probe Tottenham.”
Even Spurs’ local paper, The Evening Standard, admitted that Albion had been unfortunate to come home empty-handed. “Brighton were much the better side, had two goals ruled out and what looked like clear penalty denied by VAR before Kane won it,” Giuseppe Muro wrote.
“Kaoru Mitoma had a goal ruled out by VAR for handball, Moises Caicedo then hit the post as Brighton took control and Lewis Dunk equalised with a header from a corner on 34 minutes. The goal was richly deserved for Brighton, who were the better side and had Spurs on the back foot for most of the first half.
“Brighton had another goal disallowed in the second half when a shot from Danny Welbeck squirmed under Hugo Lloris but VAR deemed it hit Alexis Mac Allister’s arm on the way in. Spurs continued to ride their luck when Brighton were denied what looked like a clear penalty when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg brought down Kaoru Mitoma in the box.”
Nor could those writers who emphasised the quality of Albion’s football rather than their hard luck avoid the controversial moments. John Brewin, for example, described a “slugfest between ailing giant versus progressive new force” in The Observer.
“Harry Kane scored a goal that denied Brighton when they had been the team exhibiting an attacking style Spurs fans might recognise as adjacent to the ‘glory game’ ideal that underpins their club,” he wrote. “Where last year Brighton were the plucky provincial outsiders, they were the bookmakers’ clear favourites to close the gap between sixth and fifth this time around.
“When the likes of Alexis Mac Allister and Moises Caicedo joined their attacking trio, De Zerbi’s team exhibited an attacking verve rarely seen in the N17 postcode since Ossie Ardiles was throwing caution to the mid-1990s wind.
Tough one to take... 😩 pic.twitter.com/gd7a9aKQ6F— Brighton & Hove Albion (@OfficialBHAFC) April 8, 2023
“Clad in crimson, Brighton pushed from the start with Kaoru Mitoma’s scooping shot cleared off the line. They then fell victim to a rare sight once habitual, a stunning strike from Son.
“That only exacerbated Brighton’s intentions and Mitoma had the ball in the net within minutes, only to be ruled out for a handball that was deliberated over – and lengthily – by VAR. The ball looked to have hit the Japanese players chest rather than arm.
“De Zerbi’s team resumed with injustice as further motivation, Caicedo’s raking drive hit the post following Hugo Lloris’s full-length save from Mac Allister. They could not be deterred. From Solly March’s corner, and at the back post, Lewis Dunk was allowed to score on the occasion of his 200th Premier League appearance, the first Brighton player to reach that mark.”
Ditto Tom Allnutt in The Sunday Times. “For long spells [De Zerbi]’s team were excellent here — their assertive, attacking style offering further proof, if it were needed, that Brighton are under the instruction of one of Europe’s most talented young coaches.
“Brighton had dictated this contest and it only seemed a matter of time before the goals followed the possession and the simmering anger in the home stands boiled over and turned toxic. Instead, a revitalised Tottenham found another gear in the last 20 minutes and a winner through Harry Kane. Victory keeps alive their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and dents Brighton’s, with De Zerbi’s team left seven points adrift of fourth.
“They twice had reason to feel aggrieved in the opening half an hour as Clément Lenglet knocked the ball away with his arm in the area and then Kaoru Mitoma scored after cushioning Alexis Mac Allister’s pass and volleying in. The goal was ruled out for a handball but it was a close call, with Brighton claiming Mitoma controlled with his chest.
“Dunk’s equaliser was remarkably simple. Brighton’s tallest player was allowed to wander freely towards the back post where he arrowed a header into the far corner of Hugo Lloris’s net.
“Brighton were the ones seeking a second and when Danny Welbeck’s shot squirmed through Lloris they thought they had it — but the ball had nipped off the elbow off Mac Allister and VAR saved Tottenham again.
“Before the hour De Zerbi and Stellini [were] shown red cards and, as the home fans called for Pochettino, Tottenham were revived, with Kane going close and Dejan Kulusevski firing just wide. Hojbjerg caught Mitoma’s foot in the penalty area but Attwell waved away the appeals, Brighton denied again.”
Tom Barclay, who has been ‘promoted’ from the south coast beat to following Tottenham, reported for The Sun on Sunday that “the hosts were ahead through centurion Son’s moment of brilliance. From the Premier League’s greatest Asian player to the man threatening one day to take his crown, Brighton’s Mitoma then took centre stage. The Japan wideman looked to have equalised with a clinical take-down and volley past Hugo Lloris, only for the assistant ref to raise his flag for handball.
“VAR had a good long look at it - but did not send Attwell to the monitor - and eventually concurred with the on-pitch decision, even though the ball looked to have struck Mitoma on the shoulder.
“It did not deter attack-minded Albion from continuing to take the game to their hosts. World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister saw a wicked strike well saved by Lloris, before the combative Moises Caicedo struck the post from outside the area.
“Their leveller though did not come via an inventive bit of De Zerbi ball, in fact it was about as basic as it gets. Solly March swung a corner over to the far post and there was Dunk, completely unmarked, to power home a header on his 200th Premier League appearance.
“Danny Welbeck thought he had equalised ten minutes into the second period when his shot wriggled past Lloris. But replays showed it bamboozled Spurs goalkeeper because it took a big deflection off Mac Allister’s arm and the goal was chalked off.
“Brighton looked the likeliest to nick a winner and were denied another spot-kick despite Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg catching Mitoma’s standing foot. It was Hojbjerg who teed up Kane’s late strike which put Spurs back in front against the run of play.”