It’s so hard to swallow; so close but yet so far as Brighton couldn’t manage the win, which would guarantee they play Premier League football next term. Although they have to go through the dreaded play-offs, there is still hope that they can gain promotion, maybe more so now as they fell short by goal difference. Fair play to Middlesbrough, other than their anti-sportmanship behavior of going down when ever possible, they were robust and it’s easy to see why they have only conceded 8 goals at home this season. But unfortunalty they were given a huge slice of luck, when experienced and level-headed referee Mike Dean, sent off Dale Stephens just as Brighton looked like turning the tide, and going down to 10 men scuppered any chance of scoring a goal.
The game started the opposite of what most thought; fast-paced and both teams looking to attack each other to try and get the first goal to give them the upper hand. Stephens had the first meaningful chance of the game, when his pile-driving free-kick was deflected wide from the Middlesbrough wall, but it was Boro who took the lead when Gaston Ramirez whipped in a deep free-kick, and unmarked David Nugent was on hand to play the ball back across goal, to the equally unmarked, Cristian Stuani to tap the ball in. Stuani nearly made it 2 for Boro soon after, when Albert Adomah’s cross picked him out and his goal-bound volley was block on the line by Connor Goldson. Goldson was nearly a villain though, when a poor back pass to David Stockdale allowed Ramirez to sneak in, and try to chip the Albion stopper, but it went just over. Adam Clayton had a long-range shot go just wide of Stockdale’s post, which he seemed to have covered. Anthony Knockaert, who was quite quiet in the first half, had a chance in first half added time, but he snatched at the shot and it went hopelessly wide. The second half started much better for the Seagulls, and they were soon level, after Knockaert’s free-kick was met by Stephens at the back post, and his header lifted over Dimi Konstantopoulos to nestle in the far corner of the Boro net. The celebrations didn’t last long though, when Stephens was given the red card by Dean, just 3 minutes later. The controversy was that Dean had originally had a yellow card out, and was waiting to give it to Stephens while the players dispersed, but during that time Ramirez slammed the card out of Dean’s hand and showed him his leg, before changing his mind and giving Stephens his marching orders, much to the fury of the players and the bench. From then on, it was quite a sour affair, any tackle which was 50/50 was given in favour of Middlesbrough, and they went to the floor like they had been shot every few minutes; to say it was unsportsmanlike is an understatement, but you got to do what you gotta do to get the £170 million prize on offer. The final whistle was greeted by huge cheers and celebrations from the home supporters, while the 2,570 away fans watched on.
Stockdale (6); Little to do, but made a fantastic save from Adomah from 6 yards out, even if he was offside.
Bruno (6); Struggled to find any rhythm in the first half, but grew into the game when Brighton looked dangerous.
Goldson (7); Solid defensively, almost taking on Dunk’s responsibilities as well as his own. Other than a few little ‘heart in mouth’ moments, he didn’t put a foot wrong.
Greer (6); Obviously not being match fit, it was going to be difficult to mark such a striker in Nugent, but did enough to stop him being a threat.
Rosenior (6); Hardly in the game first half, and struggled to get forward in the second, before eventually moving to centre back to cover Greer’s departure.
Knockaert (6); Fabulous free-kick, but had a frustrating afternoon with Boro constantly doubling up on him.
Kayal (6); Only bright spark of a poor first half display, and continued to do so in the second; looked a little out of place when Stephens went off.
Stephens (6); Harsh call by ref Dean, it other than the dubious call, his goal was well-taken and he looked firm in midfield with Kayal.
Murphy (6); Had a good couple of runs at Nsue, but lack of match time has caught up with him it seems.
Baldock (5); Not much he could do up front, with the ball not coming into the 2 strikers in the first half. Worked hard however.
Hemed (6); When he had the chance, his hold up play was good, but he got increasing frustrated when Ayala kept going down from 50/50 headers.
Wilson (6); Changed the game, with his direct running and ability to work off the ball, but still think his match fitness it well below what it should be.
Sidwell (6); On to take Stephens place in midfield, and looked comfortable and might of had a chance if he had connected better with a overhead kick ion the Boro box.
LuaLua (N/A); Little time to make an impact, as Hughton pressed for a winner.
MFC - BHAFC; Stuani (19); Stephens (55)
Att; 33,806 (2,570 Brighton)