BRIGHTON & Hove Albion re-took top spot after they thrashed ten-man Queens Park Rangers at the Amex Stadium.
Rangers had their moments in the first half but were largely outclassed by a Brighton side that cantered to victory, particularly after a Nedum Onuoha red-card.
It started badly for the visitors when Sam Baldock when Onuoha packing with a shimmy before rifling into the top corner. It appeared a matter of time before the second followed as Rangers appeared to crumble at every set-piece – the lack of organisation and marking was palpable.
Brighton did have to wait until the second half to double their lead – this time from the penalty spot. Massimo Luongo the guilty party on this occasion with his poor challenge and Glenn Murray rolled home from the spot.
The Rs defence did not cover itself in glory and were punished once again when Baldock got the wrong side of Onuoha for what seemed the umpteenth time before a collision saw the defender harshly dismissed.
Knockaert then took Rangers to pieces – turning a shaken defence inside out before stroking beyond a helpless Smithies. The visitors offered little to nothing in riposte as they lost their sixth in succession and looking very much over their shoulders.
Brighton made two changes from the late win over Birmingham City – Solly March and Oliver Norwood coming in for Jiri Skalak and Steve Sidwell.
The Seagulls started with David Stockdale behind a defence of Bruno, Lewis Dunk, Shane Duffy and Gaetan Bong. Anthony Knockaert, Dale Stephens, Norwood and March started across the midfield with Sam Baldock partnering Glenn Murray in attack.
Queens Park Rangers made three changes from the side that were defeated by Aston Villa with Ariel Borysiuk, Jordan Cousins and Idrissa Sylla coming in for Joel Lynch, Tjaronn Chery and Conor Washington.
Smithies therefore started behind a defence of James Perch, Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and Jake Bidwell. Cousins and Borysiuk joined Massimo Luongo in the middle with Yeni Ngbakoto and Pawel Wszolek playing off Sylla.
Bruno – Dunk – Duffy – Bong
Knockaert – Stephens – Norwood – March
Baldock – Murray
Perch – Onuoha – Hall – Bidwell
Cousins – Luongo – Borysiuk
Ngbakoto – Sylla – Wszolek
Brighton took to the field knowing that a win would take them back to the summit of the Championship, given Newcastle United’s disappointing defeat yesterday evening. They started patiently however, maintaining possession and keeping Queens Park Rangers at bay.
Given Rangers’ recent shoddy record, it was not a surprise that Ian Holloway was happy for his side to try and break up the game and play on the break. The switch in system pushing Brighton-born Grant Hall to centre back
It took barely ten minutes for Albion to unlock a brittle Rangers rearguard. Picking up the ball deep SAM BALDOCK shimmied inside the aforementioned Onouha, causing him to leave the ground, and rifled a well-taken left-footed effort beyond a helpless Smithies.
Rangers did respond shortly after the 15-minute mark when Pawel Wszolek picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the area and his centre to Yeni Ngbakoto saw a resultant effort deflected wide. The visitors were closer still on the 20-minute mark.
A flick from Massimo Luongo to Wszolek could only see the winger square to Shane Duffy. However the Seagulls’ record signing gave it straight back to QPR midfielder Luongo, forcing a smart save from David Stockdale.
Glenn Murray then missed a golden opportunity to double the advantage – a corner from the left was nodded back across goal by Duffy and the unmarked Murray could only glance wide barely yards from the target.
Back up the other edge and Idrissa Sylla saw his first opportunity thwarted by Stockdale. Cousins set the wheels in motion, playing the ball to the heavily involved Wszolek down the left – the ball then eventually dropped to Sylla whose shot on the turn was spurned smartly by the Brighton ‘keeper.
Sylla then could have gone one better short after the half hour mark when a deep Bidwell cross was taken down expertly by the Guinean but after having done the hard part, he then managed to thrash wide from close range.
The home side were having to withstand QPR pressure, but it was carnage in the Rangers rearguard on every occasion that Brighton attacked. Knockaert wriggled free and found Baldock in prime position to shoot, but instead the forward elected to square to strike partner Murray, only for the ball to hit Onuoha and drop to safety.
Every corner was met with mass panic, a customary deep cross found Shane Duffy on virtually every occasion with tedious predictability. It was almost as if Chris Hughton had got lazy and didn’t feel the need to try anything different – but why would you?
The half drew to a close, much to the relief of the visiting support – as despite a good showing in attacking areas, Rangers were altogether clueless in the face of any home attack.
Brighton picked up where they left off in the opening half with an early foray into a ropey Rangers back-line. James Perch was the comedian on this particular occasion – watching on as March walked past him down the touch-line before gifting the same player a glorious opportunity a minute later when he fell over in his attempt to block March’s path.
The QPR defence had hardly caught their breath when more rearguard calamity allowed Knockaert ample time and space to square for Stephens – Luongo steamed into a tackle and ultimately gave away the easiest penalty you’ll see this Christmas.
Alex Smithies has a good record of spot-kick saves but could do nothing with this one as GLENN MURRAY powered home into the bottom left hand corner. No less than the home side deserved as QPR were threatening to cave.
They duly did ten minutes into the second half when Nedum Onuoha once again found himself on the wrong side of Sam Baldock and the collision rather harshly saw Onuoha sent off. It was a coming together of bodies but a cynical one according to Mr Stroud, who dished out a red card – his second in the last two games involving QPR.
Holloway elected to throw on Jamie Mackie in place of Ariel Borysiuk and moved Perch and Bidwell alongside Grant Hall into a makeshift back three. Fortunately for Rangers it was seldom getting tested as Albion were contented to slow the pace and knock the ball around.
It did however become worse on the 70 minute mark – Glenn Murray fed the lively ANTHONY KNOCKAERT down the right, he then turned Mackie inside out and beat Alex Smithies at his near post with a low drive. This game was rapidly proving there could be as many goals as Brighton wanted.
Stephens was next to chance his arm when substitute Tomer Hemed laid the ball off nicely with almost his first touch. Despite dominance from Brighton, Rangers did create a rare chance – another deep cross from Bidwell saw Sylla glance goal-bound but once again found Stockdale in fine form.
Osman Kakay and Sandro then took to the field for Jordan Cousins and Yeni Ngbakoto as the game started to naturally wind down to its conclusion. There was a brief moment of heart failure when Perch decided to let his man in behind for what seemed the umpteenth time only for Smithies to save the day once more.
Mr Stroud did eventually call time on this one-sided contest. Rangers showed in spells that they are capable of attacking play, but their defending was befitting of their current league standing – a frankly pitiful display from players with the experience to know better.
Stockdale, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Knockaert, Stephens, Norwood, March (Murphy 68), Baldock (Skalak 77), Murray (Hemed 71).
Maenpaa, Sidwell, Goldson, Hunt.
Smithies, Perch, Onuoha, Hall, Bidwell, Luongo, Cousins (Sandro 80), Borysiuk (Mackie 59), Ngbakoto (Kakay 81), Wszolek, Sylla.
Ingram, Washington, El-Khayati, Shodipo.
Referee: Mr K Stroud