It’s so hard to swallow, but words haven’t been invented to tell you how proud I am of Brighton’s achievements this season, so much so we are sitting here disappointed of not going up, when 12 months ago we only just survived. Watching the players reduced to tears on Monday made it harder to take, but it will only add fuel to make them achieve promotion next season. Some are saying that the play-offs need changing, that it doesn’t fairly reflect a team’s performance over the season; and Brighton unfortunately fall into that category. Brighton haven’t been outside the top 7 all season, and spent the most days at the top of the league, but won’t be gracing the pitches at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford next season, due to the lottery of the play-offs. I could be here all week discussing the play-off picture, but I’ll leave that for another day; lets just focus on how fantastic it has been to be a Brighton supporter this season.
It took only 3 minutes for Brighton to create a chance or 4 even; a Jiri Skalak corner was block on the line from a Lewis Dunk header, before Steve Sidwell’s effort was blocked, then too was James Wilson’s effort, before finally Skalak sliced the ball wide. Anthony Knockaert struck the inside of the post just 6 minutes later, but instead of going in, it only rolled across the line and went out for a goal-kick. Knockaert had another free-kick in a dangerous area, and this time Kieran Westwood was forced to save it, when he took the low route to goal hitting it under the jumping wall. Knockaert had a deflected effort nearly catch Westwood out, after the Irish international slipped leaving the ball to go helplessly over him, but it hit the side netting much to his relief. Sam Baldock broke the offside trap, and forced Westwood into a fingertip save as he pushed the Albion striker’s effort over the bar. Knockaert was at the centre again of a chance, this time he header wide when it looked easier to miss when Skalak crossed the ball in and Wilson flicked it onto the back post where Knockaert was waiting. It took numerous good chances, but Brighton finally did get their goal, when Knockaert’s powerful free kick evaded everyone but Dunk at the far post, as he stabbed the ball home. The lead didn’t last long, as Wednesday with their first chance of the game scored, when Ross Wallace’s attempted cross missed everyone and nestled into the far corner; Dunk would have cleared it had it not been for the blatant push on him by Gary Hooper, but neither the referee or his linesman gave anything and the goal stood. Wilson was given a glorious chance to restore the Albion lead, when Beram Kayal played him in but Westwood intervened with a lovely save. Skalak then tested Westwood from a free-kick, but it went just over the bar. The ball was cleared off the line in added time, when Dunk’s header from a miss hit Gordan Greer shot fell to him; in the same swift move Wednesday counter-attacked and a fantastic outside foot cross from Fernando Forestieri was met by the head of Hooper, who forced David Stockdale into a magnificent save, which kept Brighton still in the tie. However, it just wasn’t Brighton half, it could have been 6 or 7 had their chances gone in, but instead it was only 1-1. Into the 2nd half, and Brighton started just like the 1st; with chances. Skalak and Wilson both tested Westwood with low, hard-driving shots before Wednesday had a chance themselves when a Wallace shot was spilled by Stockdale, but nobody could react to it. Dunk had a chance in injury time to make it a nervy last 2 minutes, but Westwood made a great save. The game finished 1-1 with Wednesday going through on aggregate 3-1, but the score line doesn’t show just how lucky Wednesday were.
Stockdale (6); Nothing he could do about the goal, but pulled off a tremendous save from Hooper, but also spilled a relatively easy shot from Wallace which would have gifted Wednesday a goal, had somebody been gambling.
Bruno (6); Looked content in supporting Knockaert rather than overlap his runs, but made his presence known when defending.
Greer (6); What looks to be his last Albion game, hardly put a foot wrong, but wasn’t involved in the game enough but to make an impact at both ends.
Dunk (7); Scored the goal, but will be fuming that the foul wasn’t given on him for their goal. Solid again, and will prove very useful next season, if we keep him.
Bong (6); Good last couple of game has shown his early season form regenerating. Was happy to sit behind Skalak most of the time, but got forward when he could.
Knockaert (7); Should of had a hat-trick of goals in the first 20 minutes; his dead ball abilities, like Skalak’s are out of this world, that it’s quite scary at times.
Kayal (6); Commanded the midfield well, and was a threat going forward, less so in the 2nd half when Wednesday got a grip of the game.
Sidwell (6); Shook off his hamstring injury from Friday to play Monday, at first it looked like a bad decision, but he grew into the game and looked comfortable.
Skalak (7); Unlucky not top have a few goals himself, but it wasn’t to be for him. Going to be a key player next season.
Wilson (6); Good couple of chances for the on loan Manchester United man, but good block from the Wednesday defence meant he didn’t finish his time in Brighton with a goal.
Baldock (6); Classic Baldock game, would happily run it his heart’s content, but he got tired and there was nobody to replace him, basically became ineffective during the last 15-20 minutes.
LuaLua (5); Some say his last Brighton game, and if it is he will be disappointed, as he didn’t affect the game Hughton would have been hoping for, and has look out of touch since his injury.
Rosenior (5); On for Greer to make it 3 at the back, when Dunk was given orders to go up top. No real worries, just a couple of times when Wednesday counter attacked.
BHAFC - SWFC; Dunk (19); Wallace (28);