Brighton finally have a star striker destined for the top in Evan Ferguson
A star is rising on the south coast and it is becoming increasingly hard not to be excited.
With each goal that 18-year-old Evan Ferguson scores for Brighton, he shows another side of his game and with it come comparisons to striking greats through the generations.
The media in Ferguson’s native Republic of Ireland have described him as the Irish Erling Haaland. Former Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood compared Ferguson to “Alan Shearer in his pomp”. A one-time youth coach said Ferguson “always had a touch of Marco van Basten” about him. “Going to be the next Duncan Edwards” was the opinion of Mark Beard, Ferguson’s manager with Brighton Under 18s.
Brendan Rodgers settled for “a fantastic player” after Ferguson crashed an 88th minute header past Leicester City to earn the Seagulls a 2-2 draw at the King Power Stadium. That took Ferguson onto three goals and two assists in five Premier League appearances. He is averaging a goal every 66 minutes in a Brighton team who not-so-long ago were the butt of every xG joke going.
Ferguson initially emerged on the first team scene last season with an exciting cameo from the bench in an extra time FA Cup third round win at West Bromwich Albion. Most Seagulls supporters were keen to treat his arrival and obvious potential with cautious optimism, for Brighton have been here many times in the past when it comes to young strikers being overhyped and then failing to deliver.
Whereas the Albion youth and development system has proven a conveyor belt of defensive talent from Tommy Elphick to Lewis Dunk to Steve Cook to Ben White, it is more than 40 years since Brighton last produced a centre forward good enough to become an established and prolonged success. The closest being Jake Robinson with 22 goals from 148 appearances, including finishing the 2006/07 League One season as top scorer with 12 in all competitions.
Aaron Connolly probably best sums up the Albion academy’s striker woes; a brace on his full debut against Spurs, hailed as the next big thing, awarded a contract which made him a millionaire by the age of 21, now on loan at Hull City via disappointing temporary stays at Venezia and Middlesbrough having been involved in more tabloid headlines over the past three years than he has managed goals.
So when Ferguson impressed at the Hawthorns last January and scored away at Forest Green Rovers in the Carabao Cup in September, it was a case of one swallow does not a summer make. Which is what makes his rise all the more frightening; a lot of Brighton fans are still trying not to get carried away by Ferguson, but how can you not when pundits are comparing him to Haaland and Shearer and opposition managers are calling him fantastic?
The likening to Shearer and Haaland comes from them being complete centre forwards, multi-faceted players who had all the attributes needed to score any type of goal. Ferguson is built of the same ilk, as his three Premier League goals since New Year’s Eve showcase.
Against Arsenal at the Amex, Ferguson latched onto a Dunk through ball and showed remarkable strength for an 18-year-old to shrug off the attentions of William Saliba. That left him one-on-one with Aaron Ramsdale, who he duly beat with a cool, calm, collected and clinical finish straight through the legs of the England international goalkeeper.
At Everton, he had the awareness and cleverness to check his run into the box just before Jeremy Sarmiento crossed into the box. That gave Ferguson the space he needed from which to finish from 10 yards past Jordan Pickford. There were shades of Glenn Murray in the intelligence shown to looe a defender and create room in the box. Forget about Shearer and Haaland, praise does not come any bigger for a Brighton striker than comparisons to Murray.
Ferguson’s equaliser at Leicester was one which would have made any of the greatest target men to have played the game proud. Pervis Estupinan delivered a left footed cross and Ferguson rose like the proverbial salmon, meeting it with a bullet header full of power and precision placed right into the bottom corner from 18 yards out.
Just like that, Ferguson had shown himself to be as good in the air as he is on the ground.
His two assists are further examples of his ability as a target man, holding the ball up and picking the opportune moment to release others. One Ferguson attribute not really spoken about yet is his pace. Adam Lallana said in a recent interview that Ferguson is the fastest player at the Albion over 50 yards. What betting his next Premier League goal comes as a result of racing past a helpless defender?
Goals are not the only currency Ferguson has been dealing in since his emergence. When Brighton won 4-1 at Goodison, he became the youngest player since Michael Owen more than 25 years earlier to score and assist in the same top flight game, and the youngest since Federico Macheda to score in consecutive Premier League matches.
Macheda’s career path after leaving Manchester United provides another reason alongside Brighton’s historical struggles in bringing through promising strikers to be cautiously optimistic about the player Ferguson can become.
Or at least it should. But if Ferguson keeps scoring such a variety of different goals at his current rate, then even the most grounded football fan is going to struggle not to get excited. The next Haaland. The next Shearer. The next Van Basten. The next Edwards. Or as they say in Brighton, the next Glenn Murray.