It’s simultaneously true to say it was reasonable to expect that Brighton against Leeds would have been better than this, while also accepting that a Premier League match has seemingly never been more consigned to finish as a damp and unhelpful 0-0 draw.
These are two good teams, after all, coached by two tactically-astute and progressive managers, with squads of talented players who are suited to their attacking and dynamic systems. Billed for a Saturday night clash, it was an opportunity for both to cut loose in a high-wire encounter of attacking football.
But Brighton and Leeds are now also two teams with just two wins between them out of their last 16 matches, and who are starting to feel the bite of the need to simply pick up some points creep up on them as sharply as the winter chill.
And so, despite the potential on offer for a tactical contest and a game of nip and tuck between Graham Potter and Marcelo Bielsa, it was this prevailing sense of desperation that hung over a drab and dispiriting evening at the Amex Stadium, where the standard of finishing was as poor as you are likely to see in a top-flight match this season.
Based on what we know from these teams, it doesn’t quite add up, and there are plenty of contradictions at play here.
None are more confounding than the case of Tariq Lamptey. The 21-year-old was outstanding against Leeds, terrorising Junior Firpo and humiliating the former Barcelona defender into a half-time substitution thanks to a sublime attacking display at wing-back, in which he set up five chances in the first half alone.
You might have thought that Lamptey’s return from a nine-month injury layoff could only have boosted Brighton’s fine start to the season, in which they sat fourth after eight matches played. But the contradiction lies in the fact that they have now yet to win any of his six appearances since his return.
That is not his fault, of course, and if anyone deserved to be on the winning team here it was Lamptey, but it serves as an example of how both Brighton and Leeds are in a muddle and out of sync with reason.
Here, the flying, exuberant Lamptey was contrasted sharply by the returning Neal Maupay, whose demeanour was fitting of a cold, dark and stormy evening on the south coast. At the end of another burst past Firpo to the byline, Lamptey could only watch as his clipped cross broke to Maupay and the Frenchman squandered an open goal from two yards, in what was Brighton’s clearest chance of the match.
Maupay, dropped for Brighton’s previous three games despite his four-goal start to the campaign, approached the chance with the confidence of a player who had suffered such a slight to his character. He didn’t look like scoring as he stepped up to the ball, and the groans and howls from the Brighton fans were sufficient to tell you that he had blazed the shot over the bar.
It must be said, though, that Brighton were by far the better team, at least in terms of chance creation. Maupay dragged two further opportunities wide, Jakub Moder also sliced two presentable chances over the bar while Leandro Trossard saw a clean strike tipped onto the post by Illan Meslier. The Leeds goalkeeper made another fine stop to guide Solly March’s deflected effort over the bar late in the match.
Meslier was Leeds’ best player, which says a lot about their overall performance. Leeds were a shadow of the side that made such a fine return to the Premier League last season and were devoid of much of the characteristics that defined last season’s campaign. Even when Bielsa’s side were able to work the ball into an attacking position, the end result was a Dan James air-shot, or a heavy touch from the quiet Raphinha, whose own return did little to lift the visitors.
The visitors grew in urgency and threat late in the second half, notably after Lamptey was withdrawn by Potter, and, truly, nothing would have been more befitting of this contest than a Leeds smash and grab. Robert Sanchez prevented that as he tipped a late effort from Tyler Roberts onto his near post.
So where does this result leave these teams? Leeds will be fine this season. That’s the line, right? Except they could finish the weekend in the Premier League’s bottom three and face consecutive matches against Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool over Christmas.
As for Brighton, they’re a good team who are going through a bad run, right? Except that’s now eight matches in a row without a Premier League win – and only Newcastle are in worse form. The habits of wasting chances and drastically under-performing their xG, which were thought to be consigned to last season, are now back, lurking menacingly.
Brighton and Leeds will return to form eventually, but as we saw tonight, assumptions can often be dangerous things to hold on to.