SAM CUNNINGHAM AT THE AMEX STADIUM: It is an unenviable position playing up front for Brighton and Hove Albion in the Premier League, but Tomer Hemed has embraced the role.
A lonely endeavour, unlikely to see much of the ball during 90 minutes and feeding off scraps to try to score the goals required to prevent one of the relegation contenders from heading straight back down to the Championship.
Brighton defend first, generate little and focus on counter-attacking whenever they can. Even then their creativity around opponents’ penalty areas is often lacking.
Tomer Hemed of Brighton and Hove Albion celebrates as he scores against Newcastle United
That Tomer Hemed has embraced the role when he is well aware he would have been sold in the summer had manager Chris Hughton brought in one of his transfer targets makes his contribution even more impressive.
Age is not on the striker’s side, at 30, and Hughton does not deem him good enough for the Premier League. But Hemed continues to prove his manager wrong.
Two goals, now, in three games following his hooked match-winner against Newcastle United on Sunday afternoon.
His second goal from only his fourth shot on target in the Premier League this season. It was well taken: not easy to control Dale Stephens’s header across goal and coax it over Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot and into the roof of the net.
The striker looked set to be sold during the summer only for Chris Hughton to change his mind
How tough mentally to be told you are an unwanted exile in August only to be retained due to the club’s inability to find a suitable replacement.
He has also been playing some games with a thigh strain, placing his body under pressure for a club who were happy to see him leave.
Plus the Israeli international has had to contend with unrest with his national team, where supporters have turned against their players.
At Brighton he has started five of the six Premier League matches and is forcing Hughton to keep him on the field. His goal against West Bromwich Albion helped secure Brighton’s first top-flight win in 34 years.
The goal on Sunday moved Brighton on to an impressive seven points and around the mid-table pack.
Hemed has kept Chelsea’s highly-rated 20-year-old forward Izzy Brown on the bench while he is on loan, with Hughton having limited options up front.
He has now had a hand in 20 goals in his last 23 league starts at the Amex Stadium
It was Hemed’s strikes last season that were so crucial to their promotion from the Championship — 17 in 46 games in all competitions — making his circumstances even harsher. The goal against Newcastle meant he has had a hand in 20 goals in his last 23 starts from Brighton at the Amex Stadium; 15 goals and five assists.
The Brighton supporters clearly recognise that as they clapped Hemed down the tunnel after the final whistle. So, too, do the players, who all hugged the No10 as they celebrated the victory on the pitch.
The situation will surely arise again in January when Hughton attempts again to land a striker.
‘If I’m good, there is no reason to leave,’ Hemed said in a recent interview with local newspaper The Argus. ‘And I don’t think that will change in January. I think they will bring in another forward but it will be okay. There are a lot of games until then.’
He is in the final year of his contract and will be able to sign pre-contract agreements with clubs in Europe come then. Or wait until next year and leave on a free with a tasty signing-on fee.
Until then, Hemed has his chance to keep proving Brighton wrong.
The Brighton No 10 has never lost a game for the club in which he has scored