BRIGHTON & Hove Albion emphatically dispensed of Queens Park Rangers to continue their push for the Premier League.
Albion struck either side of half time – firstly through a fine Anthony Knockaert set-piece on the cusp of the break before Jiri Skalak fired an unstoppable drive home following a half-cleared effort from Grant Hall.
They underlined their ambitions in an otherwise lifeless affair when Connor Goldson nodded home after a corner from the impressive Knockaert. It was that man once more that put the seal on a useful day’s work for the hosts – sliding in from the edge of the area.
A second half disaster for QPR who had their moments in a keenly-fought opening half, but this capitulation will have Hasselbaink scratching his head in light of some relatively solid recent performances.
Brighton mounting a serious challenge; Rangers on the beach.
Brighton & Hove Albion remained unchanged from the side that thrashed Fulham at the Amex Stadium last Friday.
David Stockdale sat behind a back four of Bruno, Connor Goldson, Lewis Dunk and Liam Roseinor. The midfield quartet comprised of Anthony Knockaert, Dale Stephens, Beram Kayal and Jiri Skalak with Tomer Hemed partnering Manchester United loanee James Wilson.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink once again made four changes – this time off the back of a 0-0 draw with Cardiff City. Matt Ingram, Paul Konchesky, Tjaronn Chery and Sebastian Polter dropped out with Alex Smithies, James Perch, Junior Hoilett and Conor Washington coming in.
Smithies started behind a defence of Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall, Clint Hill and Perch. Massimo Luongo, Ale Faurlin and Karl Henry played through the middle with Matt Phillips and Hoilett supporting wide of Washington.
BRUNO – GOLDSON – DUNK – ROSEINOR
KNOCKAERT – STEPHENS – KAYAL – SKALAK
HEMED – WILSON
ONUOHA – HALL – HILL – PERCH
HENRY – LUONGO – FAURLIN – PHILLIPS
Rangers started proceedings positively at the Amex Stadium – more so than at the Cardiff City Stadium at the weekend. They made life difficult for Brighton & Hove Albion who themselves still had a great chance of gaining promotion to the Premier League.
Indeed their positive start put their promotion-chasing opposition on the back foot – Faurlin volleying over from distance before the hosts’ talisman Anthony Knockaert nodded over from a James Wilson centre.
Rangers could have taken the lead when Massimo Luongo’s burst and cross was only looped over by rare start Conor Washington. There was an air of niggle about proceedings with both Jiri Skalak – reportedly a QPR target in the summer going in the book – given the high card count of the official this season and generally during his many years of Championship service, it appeared par for the course for Mr Hill.
Clint Hill could have claimed his second of the campaign when an Ale Faurlin corner found the veteran in the heart of the area – but he could only place straight at David Stockdale in the Albion goal.
Tomer Hemed kept the chances flowing either way when he sent his snap shot, on the turn, over the bar from close range – but Matt Phillips forced the best save of the evening so far when a venomous drive was well-fielded by the able Stockdale with less than 15 minutes left of the clock.
Wilson attempted to repay the favour at the other end but it didn’t have quite the same effect as the aforementioned Phillips effort, flying wide of the upright. Phillips himself appeared to be enjoying life a little more on the south coast and curled a fine effort that drifted onto the roof of the net – deceiving even some supporters in the ground as the net rippled.
Rangers had their hosts on the back foot but as the half wore into the last five minutes the complexion and the momentum of the fixture started to change. First central defender Lewis Dunk – given his marching orders against QPR earlier in the season for a foul on Ale Faurlin – headed straight at Smithies, who pulled off a fine point-blank save.
A clumsy challenge from Nedum Onuoha on the edge of the area spelled danger on the stroke of half time and when the man felled, Skalak, stood over the ball with ANTHONY KNOCKAERT – the latter curled a fine free-kick over the wall and beyond a helpless Smithies.
On the whole it appeared undeserved after a good half from a visibly more relaxed QPR, but the goal that mattered came from the Frenchman Knockaert as the two sides were separated by a moment of magic.
Chris Hughton decided to make a change at the break, despite his side coming in at the break with a slender advantage. Sam Baldock was thrown on at the expense of James Wilson – who in truth struggled to get in to the game in the first half.
Albion looked far more assured as a result and came out with a bit more vigour. It did not take long for them to double their advantage. A hopeful ball from Bruno was not dealt with by Grant Hall – the ball dropped to JIRI SKALAK thundered a ball home from distance.
Big disappointment for QPR who had seen their early pressing come to nothing. It prompted Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to throw on Sebastian Polter at the expense of the ineffective Junior Hoilett – ten minutes into the half and Rangers went 4-4-2.
The atmosphere started to rise at the Amex where previously it had been very quiet – the nerves now clearly subsided as it appeared the hosts were now coasting with quick goals either side of the break.
Clint Hill was withdrawn with Tjaronn Chery coming on in his stead shortly before the hour mark. It prompted Henry to slot in at right-back with Onuoha pushing inside. Phillips moved back to the right-flank to keep the orthodox 4-4-2.
Chances were at a premium for both teams and the game in truth was flat – the tempo was slow as Albion now started to control the fixture. Both teams then rang the changes, goalscorer Skalak was replaced by Jamie Murphy in attack for the Seagulls while Nasser El-Khayati was brought on for Conor Washington.
Washington potentially unfortunate having moved out to the flank following Hoilett’s withdrawal and did not really have a chance to prove his usefulness as part of a two in attack.
Before long it was three and it was a routine set-piece for Albion. Anthony Knockaert’s out-swinging corner found CONNOR GOLDSON in the area – he rose highest and nodded beyond a helpless Smithies once more.
A tentative header from Seb Polter was all that Rangers could muster in a poor second period – a cross from Henry found the German who glanced harmlessly wide.
Steve Sidwell was thrown on by Chris Hughton – the Stoke City loanee playing in an advanced role for the Seagulls as he replaced forward Tomer Hemed – who in truth was relatively anonymous throughout.
A second half that in truth had little in terms of event saw Goldson place over for Albion before Chery rifled an effort into the stand following a half-cleared corner. With five minutes left on the clock Brighton got a fourth to further rub salt into Rangers wounds.
ANTHONY KNOCKAERT picked up the ball on the edge of the area before powering beyond Smithies on the stretch – the ‘keeper unfortunate with all of the goals this evening as Brighton hammered home their advantage.
Brighton made their second half dominance count and despite a relatively even showing in the opening period, it was the hosts that made strides and took apart their visitors in a fine second period.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Stockdale, Bruno, Dunk, Goldson, Roseinor, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Skalak (Murphy 69), Hemed (Sidwell 76), Wilson (Baldock 46)
Subs not used: Maenpaa, Greer, Bong, Lua Lua.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Smithies, Onuoha, Hall, Hill (Chery 59), Perch, Henry, Luongo, Faurlin, Phillips, Hoilett (Polter 53), Washington (El-Khayati 69)
Subs not used: Ingram, Gladwin, Petrasso, Kpekawa.
Attendance: 25411 (1109)
Referee: Mr K Hill