MATCH VERDICT: Brighton 3 Bolton Wanderers 1
ON a weekend when Brighton was preparing to host the Labour party conference, it was a Red Rose party of a different kind looking to its leader for a rallying cry on the south coast.
Ed Milliband and his colleagues are sure to have the recession top of their agenda over the next few days; Wanderers boss Dougie Freedman has his own deficit to deal with after an eighth Championship game without a win made it a worst start to a league campaign in more than a century.
Of course, the Scot has his own measures of austerity to deal with as he looks to build a side under the shadow of Financial Fair Play regulations and the credit rating of his squad slipped again at the American Express Community Stadium.
But his defiant post-match talk of withstanding any pressure on his position also saw him acknowledge the need to add to his ranks, and quickly, if Wanderers are to move away from the division’s back benches.
Whether the purse-strings at the Reebok can be stretched this week could prove vital ahead of what is surely now a must-win home clash with fellow strugglers Yeovil Town on Saturday.
The question facing Freedman is where to strengthen as priority. A third away game in a row shipping goals suggests the defence is in need of reinforcements and his chopping and changing at the heart of the defence is maybe an indication of his feelings.
But the frontline cannot be exempt from his thoughts as another game passed without a forward’s name on the scoresheet.
The recalled David Ngog did his best to correct that as he slid in to try to help on the own goal from David Lopez that gave the Whites the lead slightly against the run of play just before the half-hour at a ground where he rescued a late point last season.
But it was not until second-half substitutions after Brighton had turned the game on its head that home stopper Tomasz Kuszczak was forced into any real action.
And while you are not scoring at one end, there is always the danger lapses at the back can prove costly, as has become all-too familiar on the road for the Whites.
Even the most ardent of the 570 Wanderers fans that made the long trip to Sussex could not have imagined, however, there would be three such lapses in the space of five frenetic second-half minutes.
Despite being under pressure for much of the first period, Wanderers’ unchanged back line defended stoutly and stubbornly with two vital clearances from Matt Mills in the opening minutes with Alex Baptiste and David Wheater also getting their head into timely clearing action.
The only moment of concern came when Kazenga LuaLua’s piledriver left the crossbar shaking after hammering against the woodwork following the Whites opener.
Brighton looked up for it on a day designated “Spanish Day” at the Amex Stadium in honour of new boss Oscar Garcia.
But they were restricted to wide areas and as cross after cross was dealt with, Wanderers were standing up to their Spanish inquisition.
Coincidentally, it was a Spaniard who broke the deadlock but Lopez will not want to remember the deflection that diverted Chung-Yong Lee’s square ball into his own goal after a quick short corner from Chris Eagles.
Ngog had already had a golden chance when a Rohan Ince clearance hit Premier League referee Mike Jones, but he fluffed his lines.
He tried to make amends but it would go down as a Lopez own goal, despite the Frenchman’s best efforts.
Despite facing a Spanish Armada gaining territory, the Whites were relatively comfortable going in with their advantage at the midway point.
But it was a surrender of calamitous proportions early in the second half that saw the good ship Wanderers sunk.
First skipper for the day Jay Spearing, who had protected the defence well in tandem with Tim Ream, rashly caught Stephen Ward late wide on the left and to add insult to injury, the resulting free-kick from effervescent wide man LuaLua came off the Liverpudlian’s forehead to level it up.
The defensive siesta continued, particularly down the Whites’ left, as Will Buckley waltzed through to tee up Inigo Calderon, who found space away from Darren Pratley, to mark the occasion in the correct manner for the Spanish contingent in the home ranks.
Then, Buckley himself smartly turned inside past Ream to fire a left-footer past Adam Bogdan into the same far bottom corner.
How the men in red could have done with a defender of the stature of watching former England skipper Tony Adams out on the pitch to fire them up.
Boss Garcia’s Spanish Eyes were now shining brightly and the home fans were certainly “livin’ la vida loca” now.
And they took great delight in taunting Freedman – a former manager of their rivals Crystal Palace.
For Wanderers, a mad five minutes had them in a living hell and Freedman threw on Jermaine Beckford and Rob Hall, the two who had made way from the start, to try and inject some life into his side.
Hall did just that in what is now becoming a regular show of energy and positivity.
It inspired the team to push on, admittedly against a home side now coasting to the whistle.
Hall and Spearing, twice, forced Kuszczak into saves but it was too little too late again for Wanderers.
These are testing times for Freedman and his leadership is certainly facing a stern examination as we move into autumn.
Much like the Labour chief preparing for his party’s Brighton Conference, actions may speak louder than words in the coming weeks for the Whites boss.
How does it go again? Things can only get better. They have to, and sharpish.