Bolton Wanderers fell to a 3-2 defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion despite getting back on level terms twice, in the week they surpassed ten months without an away victory.
Wanderers made the trip to the south coast without leading goalscorer Gary Madine and their only left-back Dean Moxey. That meant Emile Heskey again played the lone striker role, and Derik Osede stepped in for his first start since November - meaning Bolton lined up with midfielder Josh Vela at right-back and centre-back Derik at left-back. But there was a boost with Zach Clough fit enough to return on the bench.
Brighton dominated the early stages of the game and made it count with consummate ease as they opened the scoring after 11 minutes. A common theme throughout the match, Wanderers gifted the hosts possession and they immediately broke away and scored. The impressive Beram Kayal hit a long ball forward and Jamie Murphy somehow found himself totally unmarked and through on goal under zero pressure, and slotted the ball home coolly.
That goal seemingly sparked Wanderers into life and they began playing some decent passing football. However, a painful lack of movement was seeing none of our midfielders even threaten to get close to Heskey whenever he managed to win his aerial battles.
But after 22 minutes, Wanderers put together a superb flowing move that saw them draw level. Mark Davies fed the ball into Feeney, who cut inside from the right, played a one-two with Darren Pratley and drifted the ball out the left to Wellington Silva. The Brazilian knocked a low cross into the box which was missed by Feeney and ran on to Heskey, who drilled the ball home left-footed from 12 yards, via a hefty deflection off Lewis Dunk.
Brighton then seized control of the game again and could have been ahead were it not for several saves from goalkeeper Ben Amos. But just as it looked like the sides would go in level at half-time, Bolton were the architects of their own downfall once again just two minutes before the break.
Jay Spearing gave the ball away to Anthony Knockaert on the half-way line, and the Frenchman steamed forwards to the edge of the Bolton box. Spearing had an opportunity to bring the winger down on several occasions to stop the attack developing at all, but Knockaert eventually squared the ball and Tomer Hemed tapped home from Bobby Zamora's clever flick. Wanderers were painfully outnumbered on the counter and the goal again came from giving the ball away in midfield.
Wanderers came out flying in the second half, determined to get back on level terms and got their just deserves seven minutes after the break. Way out on the left wing, Liam Feeney swung in a free-kick which Emile Heskey knocked on and Brighton half cleared, only for Jay Spearing to drill home a vicious left footed first time strike, for his second goal in consecutive games.
Three minutes later, Wanderers should have been in front. Feeney was played clean through and burst towards goal but somehow only succeeded in shooting straight at the goalkeeper's chest. You could forgive him had it been saved with the keeper's feet, but this was a shocking miss that summed up Feeney's dreadful afternoon and allowed Brighton to go on and wrap up the win.
Brighton immediately counter attacked with Bolton's defence wide open, and a nice move ended up with Hemed rounding the advancing Amos only to see his shot cleared off the line superbly by Dorian Dervite.
But Wanderers hadn't learnt their lesson and just three minutes later Brighton punished them for some abysmal play by Mark Davies. The midfielder, who had been as ineffective as Feeney all afternoon, dawdled on the ball deep inside his own half and was robbed of possession by Kayal, who played a neat one-two with Hemed then curled a low shot into the far bottom corner. It was truly abysmal play by Davies, and he should have been replaced straight away.
Brighton could and should have been reduced to ten men on two occasions. Knockaert had a wild, high, studs-raised hack at Silva as the Brazilian had burst past him, but was only shown a yellow card, then hit the Brazilian in the face minutes later but was given no punishment by an inept referee. Anyone who saw Kyle Naughton's recent red card against Sunderland and Danny Simpson's red card against Arsenal today will wonder how on earth Knockaert was not shown a red card.
Bolton huffed and puffed but never threatened to get back into the game for a third time. It was a disappointing defeat having fought back from behind twice, but it is worth remembering we came close to a result against a side fourth in the league with no recognised full-backs on the bench and a 38-year-old forward. To their credit Brighton did look a threat throughout, but Bolton absolutely handed them three points on a plate.
This was a really poor display from the Bolton midfield. Davies and Feeney in particular were hugely disappointing, and all three Brighton goals came from the midfield gifting away possession. Ironically, the defence actually played pretty well, with Rob Holding a commanding presence alongside Dervite, who actually also had a decent game.
Clough and Kaiyne Woolery were introduced late on and both showed flashes of what they can do. Clough had one jinking run but lacked support to create anything, while Woolery should have done better after bursting forward down the left wing.
But perhaps the most astonishing thing from this match, was that Liam Feeney somehow lasted the full 90 minutes while Silva was replaced by Clough after just 66 minutes. The Brazilian looked like the one player that threatened to do something different, and had his full-back worried every time he got the ball. After his departure, we had zero threat down the left as Davies was shifted out there, in addition to the total lack of threat through Feeney down the right.