PAOLO Di Canio won the Battle of the Madcap Managers as his Swindon team dispatched a poor Brighton & Hove Albion 3-0 - including a brace from former Seagull, Alan Navarro.
The midfielder, who was deemed surplus to requirements by Gus Poyet in the summer, responded to his pre-season disappointment with two crisp strikes to add to a scuffed opener from Swindon striker Paul Benson and condemn the Albion to an opening day defeat.
The first of Navarro’s finishes was particularly impressive, with the one-time MK Dons maestro coolly side- footing into debutant Tomasz Kuszczak’s top corner after neat work on the Swindon left.
Swindon had earlier opened the scoring in the 52nd minute after a turgid and goalless first 45 in which the closest either side came to scoring were two long-range efforts from Brighton’s new full-backs Wayne Bridge and Bruno, the latter who let fly with a palm stinger which was well parried shortly before the break.
When the deadlock was broken, it had the air of luck about it which such a disappointing first half had made almost inevitable.
If either side were going to score, it would be fair to say, it was going to take something special, something fortunate or something calamatous.
As it was it was a mix of the three. Liam Bridcutt was wrongly adjudged to have fouled an opponent on the of the Seagulls box, resulting in a soft free kick being awarded to the home side. What then started as an intricate training ground routine ended with Benson shinning the ball into the Seagulls net.
Poyet will not have been happy with his team’s defending of the set piece, particularly from young centre-half Lewis Dunk, who was caught napping when his man peeled away to play the ball into the six yard box in the build up.
Up until then, Poyet’s Championship charges looked untroubled by their League One opponents - even if, by the same token, they looked equally unlikely to trouble the scoreboard.
Wideman Craig Noone had a particularly poor evening despite starting with his usual bright injection of pace and enthusiasm. Too often he wasted good positions with poor crosses and regularly failed to link up with the too isolated Vicente.
The Spaniard, unsurprisingly, looked Brighton’s most inventive player but, operating in the soon to be cliched False Nine position, he struggled on the peripheries of the match until being moved deeper with half time approaching.
Gordon Greer - much to the delight of the home fans - was often wasteful in posession, too often trying to switch the ball to the opposite flank despite a misfiring radar.
Both he and Dunk were also beaten by late runs across them by Benson, but the forward failed to make the most of his space, nodding weekly wide and then over.
On the plus side of things, Bridge completed another 90 minutes, including an encouragingly forward-thinking opening 45, while Bruno looked at home in his right back slot despite showing signs of losing his temper toward the end. The pair will add solidity and experience to the Seagulls backline.
Liam Bridcutt was his usual impish self in the centre of midfield, although the screening player admitedly had little to screen. Ashley Barnes toiled hard and was unlucky to see a first half header cannon back of the outside of the post.
But, as Poyet will no doubt have noticed, this performance was well below par for a team with genuine promotion credentials.
Without Craig Mackail-Smith or a central striker, the side lacked a fulcrum on which to pivot their attacks.
Mackail-Smith should be back by Saturday’s trip to Hull City, and Kazenga Lua Lua will be an obvious alternative to misfiring Noone.
Brighton will have to be better than this. Much better. But better they will be.
Andrew Crofts will add some much need impetus to the Albion midfield and the tempo will almost certainly be cranked up a couple of notches.
And when Brighton fans reflect on this early exit, they may consider missing out on the lengthy cup run they enjoyed last season may no be bad thing.
The squad was stretched last season and their league form suffered as a result. Poyet himself said as much, when asked about the positives. “There are no more cup games. When we won League One we went out of the cups early. That was it. See you later. My players want to play in the Premier League, not the cups.”
At least Navarro left happy. The man of the match said, “I only scored one goal for Brighton so to score two on my first game here was a dream come true.”
And his manager later revealed, “I told him, if you don’t score seven or eight goals a season as a midfield player, I will kill you.”
Di Canio. He clearly knows how to motivate his players. The challenge for Brighton boss Poyet now is to rally his troops for Saturday’s league opener.
Seagulls’ match ratings
Kuszczak 6, Bruno 6, Bridge 7, Greer 6, Dunk 5, Dicker 6, Harley 5,
Bridcutt 7, Barnes 6, Vicente 7, Noone 5. Subs: Calderon 6, Agdestein 5.