DOUGIE Freedman might not be “concerned” about the start Wanderers have made to the season but there are plenty of folk in these parts who would beg to differ.
While the manager’s post-match admission at the Amex Stadium came across more callous than it was intended, it nevertheless fanned flames of frustration that are burning strongly around the club’s support at present.
Ripping into fragile egos four games in would be a risky game for Freedman to play – but it would demonstrate a degree of passion and urgency that many people doubt is in his locker.
Honest or hard-working Wanderers may be but glancing at the one-sided statistics against Brighton or the previous few Championship opponents tell you that something isn’t working correctly.
Such has been Freedman’s oft-fractious relationship with the fans through much of his 22-month tenure, flashpoints such as these have never been far away.
He knew full well that he had to start this season convincingly and, in that, he has failed.
Wanderers have mustered a measly eight shots on target in eight games, leaked a worrying number at the back and concede possession and territory to opposing sides with alarming regularity. If that is not cause for concern, then what is?
Up to the stage Matt Mills headed his side in front against Brighton it seemed the Whites had finally clicked.
Going behind seemed to revive the hosts, however, and for the proceeding 75 minutes they gave better than they got.
Craig Mackail-Smith scrambled in an equaliser, injuring Adam Bogdan in the process, and the change in goal did little to settle the jangling nerves in a back four that has regressed worryingly in the first four games.
Replacement Andy Lonergan made a couple of stunning saves but flapped at a few Seagulls crosses, hardly adding to the lack of calm in defence.
When Liverpool loanee Joao Teixeira cut in from the left to drill the winner with nearly half an hour remaining, it was the lack of a meaningful response that should really worry those of a Wanderers persuasion.
Aside from David Wheater taking his now customary place as an emergency striker there was nothing like the urgency or enterprise needed for Freedman’s side to get back into the game.
Jermaine Beckford was a spectator on the bench as the manager looked to Liam Trotter and Liam Feeney to change the shape of his side in the final stages.
Craig Davies worked hard to stretch the Brighton back four – but for all the Wales international’s endeavour, his only glimpse of goal was restricted to one shot on the turn in the second half.
Freedman has been criticised in the past for being too defensive and yet perversely it seems his decision to go with a two-man attack since the arrival of loanee Joe Mason has worked against him.
It is the Whites’ failure to see out a lead, to shut up shop, that is costing him at the moment – and a return to that more pragmatic style might be the first step on a long road to redemption, if that is still possible.
Credit to Brighton, who are playing the kind of dynamic football that Freedman had earmarked for his own team over the summer. But then in Mackail-Smith they have a player with the kind of movement and energy that the Scot so desperately needs.
Both Wheater and Mills struggled to contain the Seagulls striker, now fit again after a horrific time with injury.
Wanderers looked vulnerable down both flanks – as youngster Hayden White faded badly after a bright start and US defender Tim Ream showed he is still a square peg being played in a round hole at left- back.
Losing Dean Moxey, and especially Kevin McNaughton to injury in the last few games has had a destabilising effect across the whole side.
That sums up Freedman’s luck, you might argue, but things are equally unstable through a fully-fit midfield.
Usually Neil Danns, Jay Spearing and Medo Kamara are the consistent types that a manager can turn to in times of trouble and yet they have been among the most guilty culprits in the first few games.
Chung-Yong Lee still looks like a Premier League player whose style is incongruous to the hustle and bustle of the second tier.
The Korean could also use some extra shooting practice. He wasted an early chance, as did Wheater with a free header before Mills finished impressively for the opening goal.
Bogdan made a world-class save from Mackail-Smith before leaving the field with a large gash above his eye as the same striker slid home Calderon’s cross for the leveller.
The Hungarian’s involvement at Crewe in the Captial One Cup is now seriously in doubt.
After surviving a flurry of Brighton attacks before the break, Wanderers did settle in the second half but did so without really troubling David Stockdale in the home goal.
Teixeira’s winner came with plenty of time to spare but the Whites simply limped along, relying on set pieces and the aerial threat of Davies, Wheater and Mills to manufacture any semblance of a response.
With the signing of Liverpool’s Jordon Ibe looking unlikely and Max Clayton out of financial reach, Freedman is looking increasingly desperate to find a solution to his mounting problems.
What is beyond doubt is that circumstances off the pitch at this football club have made his task harder than any of his recent predecessors, bar none.
But the pool of sympathy on that front has dried to a trickle amongst the fanbase and the manager needs to show soon that he can get better results and performances with the group of players he has assembled.
He is due to lead his side to Leeds United and Elland Road – scene of arguably his best win as Wanderers boss next weekend – under substantial pressure to improve.