Graham Potter has backed Shane Duffy to have a long-term future at Brighton after the defender capped his south coast rejuvenation with a thumping header in the comfortable 2-0 win over Watford.
The 29-year-old was surplus to requirements last season and endured a difficult loan stint at Celtic, with his father’s death among a number of off-field tribulations.
But Ben White’s£50m Arsenal switch has opened a space, and Duffy has seized his chance to step back into regular contention.
Asked if Duffy can carve out a long-term niche in the Brighton ranks, Potter replied: “Yes, I think he’s come back in pre-season training really well. And he’s come into a group that’s developed from where it was at the start of my time here. He’s enjoying himself, his football, there’s a bit of clarity on what’s expected of him and what he can contribute to the team. He’s our player and we understand his qualities. He brings a lot to the game and he’s really important to us.”
Duffy’s thundering header from Pascal Gross’s corner and Neal Maupay’s neat finish from Yves Bissouma’s assist eased Brighton to a commanding victory, to make it two wins out of two.
The Republic of Ireland defender Duffy appears ready to put his previous trials behind him, leaving Potter delighted on an emotion-laden afternoon.
“I’m really happy for Shane, he’s had a really tough year on and off the pitch,” said Potter. But he’s learned a lot from that experience, and he’s come back to the club in a really good way.
“He’ll always be someone that everyone here loves, and that will never change. But he’s had time to evaluate himself, his life and everything that goes with that.
“And since he’s been back with us, he’s been fantastic. If you conduct yourself well and give yourself a chance on a daily basis, then you give yourself a chance to play well.
“That’s what he’s done and it’s really paid off for him. Everyone here loves him, myself and the staff have always loved him and we’re delighted for him for what’s happening now.
“He’s had a really tough year, he lost his father suddenly, and that’s quite clearly something that’s extremely tough to deal with.
“Then he had to cope with lockdown in a strange city, and that hadn’t gone well on the pitch, it was disappointing for him and Celtic. And sometimes you reflect on what changes you can make. He’s done that and we all just want Shane to be happy, because when he’s happy, he’s fantastic.”
Maupay trudged off at half-time with a shoulder problem but Potter is staying hopeful that the 25-year-old will not be out for long, saying: “It’s too early to say, but we’re hopeful it’s not too bad. It’s just really, really sore for him at the moment.
“We’ll have to take a bit of time, 24 to 48 hours to see how bad it is. But we’re hopeful at the moment it could be days instead of weeks.”
Watford could find no answers to Brighton’s confident tactical and technical display, but Xisco Muñoz insisted there is no great cause for concern.
“I’m disappointed in the first half, I think we didn’t give our proper performance,” the manager said. “But I want to think about the positive things, the reaction of the players in the second half.
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“We need to learn quickly about the Premier League. In the second half we had our chances. We played in their half, and always this is the way. I’m disappointed only about the first half…, because we had little problems about different things.
“But the most important thing is the reaction in the second half.”