Thinking man Danny Welbeck is no goal machine but offers Brighton so much more

·5-min read
Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring against Brentford - Getty Images/Justin Setterfield
Danny Welbeck celebrates scoring against Brentford - Getty Images/Justin Setterfield

Brighton & Hove Albion’s second equaliser in Saturday’s rollercoaster against Brentford wasn’t much of a goal. Solly March crossed. Brentford’s Aaron Hickey and Pontus Jansson lost concentration and Danny Welbeck nipped in between them to head in.

Welbeck celebrated in lusty fashion. As well he might, for it was a timely reminder of the striker’s existence as well as his qualities. The header was only his third Premier League goal of the season. It took him to half the six-goal haul he managed in each of the previous two seasons. He’s no goal machine: indeed, one of the most-celebrated forwards of his generation has never reached double figures for league goals in a season.

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As it most certainly was on Saturday, Welbeck’s game was always more than goals and even at 32 the can-do attitude which has so endeared him to a succession of elite managers remains. In the autumn of his playing years, he’s ready and able to adopt a new role under head coach Roberto De Zerbi, one which requires him to play – and think - deeper than ever.

As Brighton laid intensive second half siege to David Raya’s goal, Welbeck picked every defensive lock Brentford put in front of him. Like the Welbeck of old, he led the line, ensuring the back-three rarely had a moment of peace. Concomitantly, he dropped back to complement the more sideways-minded Alexis Mac Allister, while serving wide-men Kaoru Mitoma and March as much as they served him. Little wonder De Zerbi suggested it was Welbeck’s finest performance for the new regime.

“It’s an adjustment,” Welbeck acknowledged after Saturday’s game. “But it’s one I’m totally capable of making. We don’t necessarily play with a striker. So as well as trying to get on the end of things, I’m more involved in the build-up play. Roberto is tactically tip-top. He’s a special manager, special man and playing under him is a joy.”

The emergence of relatively free-scoring teenager Evan Ferguson, who may return from injury for Tuesday’s trip to Bournemouth, was a clear threat to Welbeck. De Zerbi’s decision to give Ferguson an extended run in January, meant the then-injured Welbeck struggled to regain his place. Instead, Welbeck saw it as an opportunity to mentor.

Welbeck can act as a mentor to the highly rated Evan Ferguson - AFP/Glyn Kirk
Welbeck can act as a mentor to the highly rated Evan Ferguson - AFP/Glyn Kirk

“Danny has still got his hunger, 100 per cent,” explained centre back Levi Colwill. “He’ll never lose it. He is a big part of the changing room. If Evan needs anything, Danny’s always there, but all us young players have learned from him.”

“Myself and Evan talk a lot,” confirmed Welbeck. “About how we're preparing, the weaknesses we can spot in opponents and areas where we might get a bit of joy. He's a great kid and I’m rooting for him.”

When De Zerbi arrived, he openly stated his targets to the changing room. Top of the list was Europe. With Brighton in sixth place as of Sunday morning, players and staff should start checking the expiry dates of their passports.

“It’s good to have lofty ambitions and aim high,” said Welbeck. “If we fall short, then so be it, but I’m loving every single minute of it.”

European contenders share the spoils in Amex thriller

Alexis Mac Allister - Alexis Mac Allister rescues a point for Brighton in final minutes in thrilling six-goal draw - Getty Images/Mike Hewitt
Alexis Mac Allister - Alexis Mac Allister rescues a point for Brighton in final minutes in thrilling six-goal draw - Getty Images/Mike Hewitt

By John Aizlewood, at the Amex Stadium 

Brighton & Hove Albion in Europe? Brentford in Europe? After this firecracker it could happen for both. Nothing could prise them apart yesterday and as bigger teams stumble around them, this morning only six goals separate Brighton in seventh place from Brentford in eighth. The natural order may be about to be overturned.

“We dream big,” said Thomas Frank, the Brentford head coach. “but we must have laser focus on the next game.”

“Europe is a target, absolutely” declared Roberto De Zerbi ,the Brighton head coach.

Both teams showed why they are in contention for a first European jaunt. Ice-cold Alexis Mac Allister’s 90th minute penalty ensured a breathless encounter finished three goals apiece. Brighton were behind three times and they levelled three times in a game they dominated. Yet Brentford could -  perhaps should - have won.

There were four goals in the first 28 minutes. Brentford  barely had a kick in the first 10 minutes. When they did, they scored, captain Pontus Jansson, making his first start since October, powering  a firm header past Jason Steele.

Steele assisted Brighton’s first equaliser when he walloped a ball forwards. Aaron Hickey misjudged it. Kaoru Mitoma gleefully lobbed in his seventh Premier League goal of the season, a record for a Japanese player.

Time to pause for thought and breath? Not for Brentford. They were ahead again within 90 seconds when Jansson headed Joel Veltman’s sloppy throw-in to Bryan Mbeumo, whose flick found the lurking Ivan Toney, who did what Ivan Toney does.

Mayhem ruled and Brighton levelled again when Welbeck leapt between Hickey and Jansson to nod in. The half-time teas were still warm when Ethan Pinnock’s deft sidefooted volley glided past Steele, the centre back’s first away goal since scoring at Birmingham City in February 2020.

Still Brighton had much the better of things, territorially speaking. Raya was at the top of his game, as Brighton had 15 shots on target (another 18 flew wide), but when VAR summoned referee Michael Oliver to the monitor after Hickey handled Deniz Undav’s goalbound  effort at point-blank range, there would be redemption. Europe still beckons both teams.