Premier League players again defied the Covid-19 protocol against hugging, just 24 hours after top tier officials pleaded with them to "set a good example". Amid likely Government pressure, Richard Masters, the league's chief executive, is now expected to table a final attempt to persuade clubs to fall in line at a shareholder meeting on Wednesday. Goalscorers were mobbed, albeit briefly, at Molineux, Elland Road and the London Stadium, prompting West Brom's Sam Allardyce to become the latest manager to quibble with the rule. "We've been told there's no scientific reason for them not to celebrate collectively, but it is more a symbolic thing," said Allardyce, after goals in his side's 3-2 win at Wolves sparked both hugs and high fives. There were further embraces at the full-time whistle, and footage also showed Nuno Espírito Santo's side in a pre-match huddle in the dressing room. There was also a huddle between Leeds players ahead of their 1-0 defeat by Brighton. Players initially held back as Neal Maupay secured the winner, but, after the final whistle, many of them embraced. Michael Antonio also initially celebrated on his own in a back-stroke along the turf after striking the only goal in West Ham's victory against Burnley. However, other team-mates did move in to high five and put their arms around him afterwards at the London Stadium. Sources close to the Premier League said there has been progress compared with celebrations in midweek, when none of the players held back. However, Allardyce, who had previously called on the league to consider a circuit breaker while Covid cases surge, suggested the rule was proving tough to comply with. "It's very difficult to control your emotions," Allardyce said. "They did control themselves a little bit. You can understand why that [embraces between players on the final whistle] happened though." Clubs were formally reminded by the league twice in the last fortnight that "handshakes, high fives and hugs must be avoided" and players should social distance whenever possible on and off the pitch. Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, waded into the row this week, saying "football authorities must enforce them strictly". In response to criticism, Allardyce is among a number of managers to have taken issue with the Government handling of the pandemic, saying previously that he was "peeved" that players were being called "irresponsible". "We're getting tested two or three times a week," he said. "We have sterilisers, masks and independent monitors at the training ground making sure we don't do this or that." The government is not about to withdraw elite sport’s right to carry on during the lockdown but football has been left in no doubt that it is not a privilege it can take for granted. After previous on-pitch instructions were largely ignored following Project Restart, the league had been forced to toughen its position due to record numbers of infections in recent weeks. Ten days ago the league issued a toughened-up list of protocols calling on teams to show restraint especially when greeting friends on opposing teams. They warned the clubs that they should “avoid unnecessary contact at all times” including “handshakes and hugging” between opposing teams. Other renewed instructions include wearing face masks on the bench, spot checks of dressing rooms and team buses to ensure social distancing measures are being followed. However, after the hugging rule was ignored midweek, on Friday, Masters told the BBC prior to Saturday's kick-offs: "The players get it. They know we're asking them now again to adjust their behaviours on the pitch, in goal celebrations and around the beginning and the end of matches. We're asking them to adapt and understand why you've got to follow the rules and you've got to set a good example." Between Dec 28 and Jan 3, 40 Premier League players and club staff tested positive for coronavirus - more than double the previous weekly high.
The Seagulls halted a 10-game winless run in all competitions.
Leeds made an encouraging start, with Rodrigo inches away from connecting with Ezgjan Alioski's cross from the left in the seventh minute, but it was Brighton who went on to claim their first-ever top-flight victory at Elland Road. Maupay struck in the 17th minute, finishing off a flowing move started by Alexis Mac Allister, who burst into the Leeds box after a quick exchange of passes with Leandro Trossard before squaring the ball for the Frenchman to tap home.