Promotion-chasing Brighton bashed Derby County on Friday
BEFORE the season started Derby had high hopes of securing Premier League football next term – but come the final whistle at the Amex Stadium they were shown by Brighton just how far they have still got to go.
While the Rams were cold on Friday night, hosts Brighton were red-hot and eased to victory with goals from Anthony Knockaert, Sam Baldock and Glenn Murray.
Matej Vydra did hit the post with a header but at that point Derby were already two goals down, and boss Steve McClaren admitted they were taught a lesson as Brighton consolidated their automatic promotion hopes with a 14th home win of the campaign.
“It was a lesson for my team and this showed how far Brighton have come,” McClaren said. “They are going up for certain. Murray was a great signing and Brighton are a team that are going up.
“The gap showed. It was a reality check for us. We have played three games in a week and we couldn’t deal with the physicality of that.
“That is the benchmark of where we need to go. In the 16 months I was away teams have really kicked on in terms of physicality. The league has kicked on. We need to learn the lessons and kick on ourselves.
“I am confident I can take it on, absolutely. We need to take the club on to the next level and from day one we knew that.
“The chairman wants Derby in the Premier League. We have all the resources and don’t need to panic. We need to prepare to face Forest on Saturday and then take this club on.”
Brighton’s trio of Murray, Baldock and Knockaert have now scored 42 Championship goals between them and it took the latter just five minutes to open the scoring against the Rams. The winger collected a pass from Bruno on the right, left Julien de Sart for dead and sent a low 20-yard shot past the dive of Scott Carson and into the bottom corner of the net.
Derby levelled almost immediately but Darren Bent’s downward header from a Cyrus Christie cross bounced over the bar.
But it was all the Seagulls and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead two minutes before half-time as de Sart tackled Murray but the ball fell to Baldock who coolly slotted home.
McClaren made a double change at the break, bringing on Will Hughes and Craig Bryson for de Sart and David Nugent and changing the formation to 4-3-3, but it did little to halt Brighton. Knockaert’s 30-yard strike forced Carson into a fine stop in the 54th minute, before Vydra’s header from Christie’s cross came back off the post just after the hour mark.
But Brighton wrapped up all three points in the 78th minute as Murray’s close-range shot was saved by Carson only for the ball to rebound off the striker and into the net.
Brighton manager Chris Hughton said: “We now have 77 points and there is no points target from our last nine games.
“We’ve got some tough games coming up and everybody is fighting. But we’re on the back of a really good performance against a really good side. We were very good from start to finish.
“The timing of the first goal was pivotal, the second just before half-time lifted us and we were able to take that on.”
DREAM START: Anthony Knockaert scores Brighton’s fifth-minute opener against the Rams