Even managers who seem to walk on water get soaked from time to time. This seems to be one of those periods for Roberto de Zerbi.
It would be terribly premature to talk about difficulties at Brighton, especially in the immediate aftermath of a win over Ajax, but things are starting to get a little trickier and tougher.
In fact, it is the longest such streak since the first five games of De Zerbi’s tenure, as there has been no Premier League win in the last four games.
Admittedly, a spell involving Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa was never going to be easy, but not many teams have been better than Brighton in the 14 months since De Zerbi’s arrival, so this is more of a measure of progress than anything that feels like a sprint feels like a crawl.
They will come back because of their talent and coaching quality, but this was a big setback considering how they dominated the game in the first half, which they led through Evan Ferguson. At this point they were the usual merry-go-round of movement and quality, with Kaoru Mitoma shredding calves on the left and Simon Adingra breaking hearts on the right.
Evan Ferguson scored his side’s lead against Fulham at the AMEX Stadium
Joao Palhinha equalized for Fulham in the 65th minute, ending Brighton’s 1-0 lead
Ferguson, 21, has been in top form for the coastal club, scoring five goals so far this season
But if there is a weakness of this team, it is that they offer very few guarantees in defense and, like every other league appearance this season, they conceded a goal.
GAME FACTS AND PLAYER REVIEWS:
Brighton (3-5-1-1): Steele 5.5; Webster 7, Dunk 7, Julio 6.5; Adingra 7.5 (Veltman 71, 6.5), Gross 7, Baleba 6.5 (Buonanotte 71, 6), Dahoud 6 (Gilmour 71, 6), Mitoma 6.5; Lallana 6 (Fati 58); Ferguson 7.5 (Pedro 77).
Unused Subs: Verbruggen, Milner, Van Hecke, Hinshelwood.
Manager: Roberto de Zerbi 7
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Turner 7; Castagne 6.5, Bassey 6, Ream 6.5, Robinson 5.5; Reed 6 (Pereira 58, 7), Palhinha 7.5; De Cordova-Reid 6 (Wilson 58, 7), Iwobi 7, Willian 6 (Cairney 85); Jimenez 5 (Muniz 58, 6).
Unused Subs: Rodak, Ballo-Toure, Lukic, Tanton, De Fougerolles.
Booked: Muniz, Robinson, Wilson
Manager: Marco Silva 7
Referee: Michael Salisbury 7
Joao Palhinha deserves a lot of credit for the goal, as does Marco Silva for the substitutions that revived what seemed like a losing battle in midfield, but the origin of the goal was a defensive overreading. If that’s the bane of an attractive team then so be it, but a draw will always seem avoidable when it’s based on mistakes like this.
Of course, a perspective is required. De Zerbi is building a good performance on the south coast, as shown by the win over Ajax. Perhaps the truth lies in the exhaustion of those efforts in the Europa League, which contributed to the Brighton manager making six changes to his squad here and also switching his system to a back three. This gave Brighton control of the middle for a while – dominance by suffocation – and so they muscled their way through the first half.
By the numbers they had 72 per cent possession, albeit only one goal, but at first glance the gap was even more obvious and was illuminated by Simon Adingra on Brighton’s right wing.
It is still far too early to say whether he will be one of those new discoveries that sparks a raid on the transfer market, but the 21-year-old Ivorian is clearly a talent, a nimble, responsive attacker whose only sense of grace here is to share his cruelty between Antonee Robinson and Harrison Reed.
His performance might have been better, with two mediocre finishes from good chances in the first 20 minutes, but he was the embodiment of his team – quick, nimble, always on the rise.
To the wider collective, their control of this game became even more palpable in the 26th minute when they took the lead. As with Fulham’s defeat at Tottenham on Monday, Marco Silva’s side were largely responsible for the deficit.
In this case, that meant a loose pass from Harrison Reed, an interception from Igor Julio, a push from Pascal Gross and a brilliantly precise finish from Ferguson for the fifth time this season. Silva threw his hands in the air and that was fair enough – his team did next to nothing in the entire first third.
Palhinha has scored five goals in almost 50 appearances for the London club
Kaoru Mitoma almost scored the opening goal for the Seagulls but narrowly missed the target
Fulham coach Marco Silva gave Roberto De Zerbi a friendly hug during the game
Brighton are currently 7th in the table and enjoying European football for the first time ever
Lewis Dunk opened the second half by hitting the crossbar with a free kick, which in turn served as a catalyst in shifting the load of the game as it led to a triple substitution from Silva. Harry Wilson in particular made an impression as Fulham regained some ground in the middle and applied increasing pressure.
This was best demonstrated in the equaliser, when Brighton goalkeeper Jason Steele overcomplicated the defense and put Gross in trouble. He was smothered by Alex Iwobi before Wilson passed a pass to Andreas Palhinha. He touched the edge of the penalty area and drilled into the top corner.
The place suddenly became nervous. Part of it revolved around accusations of time-wasting and Fulham’s blatantly faked injury, but undeniably the tension grew with missed opportunities from Adam Webster, Joel Veltman and Julio.
A draw isn’t a bad thing, but Brighton has come to expect more.