Rickie Lambert secured his third hat-trick for Southampton as they cruised to an impressive victory over ten-man Brighton. The match came to life in the second half as Lambert headed in at the far post from Frazer Richardson's cross just after half-time. Brighton defender, Mauricio Taricco was sent off after complaining to referee Peter Walton about the first of two penalties which changed the game. Lewis Dunk and Inigo Calderon comitted the fouls which Lambert both converted from the spot to secure the win.
Southampton's victory was their 20th consecutive home win in all competitions (18 in the league) which keeps them at the top of the Championship by five points. It had looked to be a difficult afternoon in store for the league leaders as Brighton enjoyed more of the possession in the first half which included some sloppy passing from both teams. The home side created some chances in the first half but for resolute Brighton defending to keep the scoresheet goalless at the break.
It was a totally different second half with incidents galore where Southampton finally broke Brighton's resistance after 49 minutes where Frazer Richardson's left-footed cross found Rickie Lambert at the far post whose header flew past on-loan 'keeper Steve Harper. Less than ten minutes later, the Saints were awarded the first of two penalties of the afternoon after Lewis Dunk pulled José Fonte to the ground however replays show that it was clearly outside the area. It got worse for the visitors as veteran defender, Mauricio Taricco was sent off by referee Peter Walton for disputing the decision. Lambert converted his penalty sending Harper the wrong way to double Saints' lead after 58 minutes.
SPOT ON: Lambert celebrates one of his 3 goals
The home side should have been awarded a second penalty when Danny Fox delivered a free kick to the far post for Lambert to head on however he was clearly blocked off by Brighton defender Painter which the referee wasn't interested. The Saints did get awarded their second penalty of the afternoon when Inigo Calderon, who was close to signing for Saints last summer, tripped Lambert in the area and the Spaniard was booked for his challenge. Tallismanic Lambert made no mistake from the spot as he completed his third hat-trick for Southampton.
This was the first time the two sides had met each other since their promotion from League One where Brighton pipped the Saints to the title last season. There has been a lot of banter between both sets of fans from this fixture last season after Southampton manager Nigel Adkins said that Brighton would have to "keep up with us" in order to compete to win League One however that has lead to all sorts of criticism from the Brighton faithful. It didn't stop there as Brighton manager Gus Poyet has also made some enemies amongst the Saints fans after comparing Saints to Dagenham & Redbridge. Recently, the Brighton boss has been defending Liverpool's Luis Suarez after the Uruguayan was charged by the FA for racist comments towards Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. Poyet branded Evra as a "cry-baby" and believes the FA sided with the Frenchman despite what his claims of "a lack of evidence" against Suarez.
BATTLING IT OUT: Adkins and Poyet were up against each other since promotion last season
After the match, Adkins was pleased to see the Saints grind out a win after the way Brighton started the game. "I think we have to give Brighton a little bit of credit in the first half because they have come and controlled the football far too much and probably more than anyone else has here this season." The Saints boss then praised Rickie Lambert after his hat-trick that keeps him top of the scoring charts in the Championship with 15 goals. "He works very hard and we have a great environment for him to go and work in."
Meanwhile, Brighton manager Gus Poyet was frustrated at the first penalty that was given by referee Walton which also saw his assistant Taricco sent off. "I'm always fair with referees because it's a very difficult job. When the decision is tight we need to give them the benefit of the doubt but when the incident is a yard outside the box it's embarrasing. He was supposed to be a Premiership referee but one decision changed the game."
Overall, another fantastic win for Saints especially after a slow first half however they showed once again that they can grind out results which is what every great team needs. Praise also has to go to Rickie Lambert who has shown that he is more than capable to score goals at this level and he is going to be a big threat for defenders alike.