They say you learn your lessons the hard way.
For 80 minutes as Brighton stared down the barrel of an FA Cup exit to Championship side West Brom, Graham Potter could probably hear the criticism hurtling towards him.
A substitutes bench in an FA Cup third round tie which included Marc Cucurella, Jakub Moder, Leandro Trossard, Alexis Mac Allister and Robert Sanchez hints at priorities lying elsewhere. After all, you can’t have your cake and eat it at the same time.
It was inevitable, then, that it was Brighton’s strength off the bench which eventually salvaged the Seagulls’ place in the next round.
Two substitutes combined as Moder rifled home Brighton’s equaliser in normal time, before a combination of the Poland international and Trossard teed up Neal Maupay to fire home the winner seven minutes into extra time.
A masterstroke from Potter, some might argue, but it is a consequence of Brighton’s greater outlay on their squad in recent years. To the tune of a £200m net spend, Potter – and his predecessors – have intelligently moulded the Seagulls into an established Premier League side.
Throw in Cedric Kipre’s second half red card for West Brom and the equaliser from Moder had a sense of inevitability about it. It will be crucial that Potter learns his lesson going forward in this competition.
The Seagulls boss was criticised when he sent out a heavily rotated side in defeat to eventual winners Leicester in the last 16 last season.
Brighton’s starting XI against West Brom was certainly stronger in comparison to that day at the King Power Stadium, but the Seagulls faithful won’t be prepared to go to the cliff-edge against inferior opponents every time when many will view the FA Cup as their top priority this season.
The side’s inability to find the back of the net with any great regularity – which may be addressed with additions in January – could put European qualification beyond them. The Seagulls currently lie 9th in the Premier League, with both the floor and the ceiling of their ambitions lying a couple of places in either direction.
Cup competitions offer supporters tangible reward for their team’s ability, as Leicester attested to last season. Ask any Leicester supporter to recount their memories of that afternoon at Wembley and your ear will be burning within seconds. Ask them to recount when they secured European football under Rodgers the first time around with a 2-0 win over Sheffield United in July 2020 and they may require a double take.
Brighton’s league performances offer evidence that cup glory this season is within their grasp.
Amid a hectic fixture schedule and a spate of postponements, Potter will be forced to dig deep into his squad’s reserves to maintain performance levels.
But there must be a realisation that the FA Cup does not pose the same glass ceiling which exists in the Premier League. The magic of the cup is exactly what it says on the tin: magic.
Potter’s regular starters bailed him out at the Hawthorns. The next step is to get them on the pitch from the get-go and avoid nervy affairs such as this.