Locadia's lift-off a timely tonic for Hughton
Brighton 1 Everton 0
A mere six weeks ago, Jurgen Locadia suggested he would use the winter months of a bleak first year in England "to think if this is still good for me". It certainly looks pretty satisfying from Brighton's point of view now.
The suggestion Locadia, a £14m signing who had not scored in the Premier League before the St Stephen's Day draw with Arsenal, would earn Brighton a four-point haul from two fiendish home assignments might have drawn blank looks earlier in the month but his Premier League career now has lift-off.
His close-range winner, awarded at length after Robert Madley had originally ruled it out for offside, punished a sloppy start to the second half from Everton and ensured Brighton put a four-game winless run well behind them.
Everton's previous four games had brought 22 goals and wildly differing fortunes. It was asking a lot for the middle fixture of the Christmas schedule to offer similar knockabout fun, though; players are not machines, as Marco Silva pointed out after resting top scorer Richarlison for most of the 5-1 win at Burnley on St Stephen's Day, and a 270-mile trip to the south coast was not obviously conducive to another flying start.
That sense was borne out during a slow-burning first half. Brighton hogged the early possession but would go in slightly behind on points. Michael Keane missed the first half-chance for Everton, rising to plant a Bernard cross wide and clearly thinking he should have done better.
But they were largely content to sit off and survived when Pascal Gross worked space before forcing Jordan Pickford into a low one-handed stop. Yerry Mina threw himself successfully at Locadia's volley from the rebound and that was virtually the sum of the home side's goalmouth excitement.
By the half-hour it was clear Everton felt sufficiently emboldened to step up a couple of yards. David Button, making his Premier League debut for Brighton after Mat Ryan's departure for the Asian Cup with Australia, had one lucky escape after spilling from a Theo Walcott cross but looked altogether more convincing in the 28th minute.
Richarlison had made excellent ground down the left but Button parried his angled effort; Seamus Coleman dithered in retrieving the ball and, by the time he got his shot away, Brighton had defenders back to block.
Mina got across to deny Davy Propper but by now the traffic was mainly flowing the other way. Idrissa Gueye surged through an open midfield but could not find a team-mate; before the interval Dale Stephens, harried by an increasingly aggressive Everton press, could only place a backpass behind his own goal in a snapshot of what the game had gradually become.
Chris Hughton, second-best to Silva in the touchline animation stakes, presumably saved his most resonant exhortations for the dressing room. Brighton came out faster and sharper, their fans' volume rising with the tempo. It took a timely intervention from Kurt Zouma to thwart Florin Andone after Propper's smart turn had embarrassed Zouma; the Romanian was then denied by a flying Pickford save after meeting Gross's free-kick.
There was menace in the air now and, in slightly staccato fashion, Brighton made it count on the hour. Locadia looked at least two yards offside when a Gross corner ricocheted into his path but, standing just inside the six-yard box, spun and rifled home.
Madley cut the celebrations short almost instantly but the strength of Albion's protestations made clear something was amiss. His assistant referee on Everton's left side felt the same; across Madley went and, after the briefest of conferences, corrected his error. Replays confirmed the ball had clearly squirmed to Locadia off an unsighted Andre Gomes, who seemed unprepared for the delivery to fall his way.
From Everton's point of view, it was, at least, a jolt and they would have equalised immediately if Button were not such a capable deputy. His tip onto the post from Richarlison, who had shot through a defender's legs, was exceptional but the remaining scares were sporadic. Bernard worked a decent opening before, on his weaker right foot, slicing out for a throw-in.
With four minutes left Zouma thudded a header onto a static Button's crossbar and Everton's maddening inconsistency was confirmed soon after.
Sunday Indo Sport