Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
- City beaten by two first-half goals
- Sidwell from 50 yards and Murphy on target for Brighton
- Hosts unable to penetrate well-drilled visitors
An early wonder goal left City faced with a mountain they were unable to conquer as promotion hopefuls Brighton & Hove Albion showed their credentials with a disciplined away performance at Ashton Gate.
Veteran midfielder Steve Sidwell opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a remarkable 50-yard lob, while Jamie Murphy completed the scoring with a deflected shot soon after.
From then on Brighton’s stubborn defence was able to frustrate City, who struggled to carve out clear-cut chances against very well organised opponents.
Lee Johnson made four changes to his side, including in goal, with Frank Fielding not fully fit having suffered a minor groin injury in the latter stages of the 2-2 draw at Barnsley last time out.
Fielding’s absence opened the door for Richard O’Donnell to make his first league start for two months.
Elsewhere, Mark Little, Jamie Paterson and Joe Bryan were all recalled with Bobby Reid and Aaron Wilbraham dropping to the bench, while Adam Matthews and Josh Brownhill were sidelined through illness.
City had found themselves conceding first in five of their previous six matches and were determined to get on the front foot from the start against the high-flying Seagulls.
Tammy Abraham had the EFL’s best defence worried when he seized on a mistake by Shane Duffy and played in Lee Tomlin with a clever reverse pass, but Tomlin’s touch took him away from goal and he could not wrap his left foot around it to hit the target.
The hosts’ positive start was soon forgotten when Sidwell
silenced three sides of Ashton Gate with a moment of brilliance after 13 minutes.
When Korey Smith was dispossessed by former City skipper Sam Baldock, the ball ran loose to Sidwell just inside the City half.
Taking aim from fully 50 yards and still inside the centre circle, the wily midfielder spotted O’Donnell off his line and sent an inch-perfect lob straight over his head.
Backpedalling furiously, the City keeper was unable to prevent the ball bouncing into his net.
Suddenly City’s early momentum had stalled and seven minutes later the visitors had doubled their lead.
Collecting the ball on the left flank, Murphy
jinked inside and let fly with a low shot that took a cruel deflection to find the bottom corner just beyond the despairing dive of O’Donnell.
When Scott Golbourne headed the ball back across goal soon after with no red shirts in support, the growing sense of frustration among the home supporters was audible.
Brighton had a stranglehold on proceedings and were not about to weaken their grip.
City had no choice but to chase the game and the visitors were quite happy to play on the counter, with Golbourne called upon to make an important block from Jiri Skalak as the Seagulls set about putting the game to bed before half-time.
Johnson needed a quick response. Skalak went close for a second time when he drove a shot into the side-netting, while at the other end Gary O’Neil volleyed into the arms of goalkeeper David Stockdale before going into the book for a late tackle on Murphy.
Brighton remained dangerous, as Baldock backheeled his way past Hordur Magnusson and found Murphy, whose wicked low cross had to be tipped away by O’Donnell.
A double change just after the hour saw Reid and Wilbraham replace Golbourne and Smith, but City were still struggling to penetrate stiff Brighton resistance.
The evergreen striker went to ground in the box with time running out, but penalty appeals were more in hope than expectation.
Paterson fired over and Reid’s teasing pass nearly sent Abraham running through on goal, but that was as close as City came.
In short, it was easy to see why Brighton have now kept 11 clean sheets in league matches alone this season. Expect them to be roughly where they are now in six months’ time.