Brighton will stay up if they continue to play like they did on Saturday - Scott McCarthy
Hands up then, who was fearing the worst after just three minutes at Wembley Stadium on Saturday? Just over 180 seconds was all it took for Manchester City to take the lead against Brighton & Hove Albion and a very long evening indeed looked in prospect.
In fact, a cricket score might have been in prospect. The Albion’s record defeat of 9-0 against Middlesbrough didn’t seem out of reach. A quick Google search would have revealed that the highest ever FA Cup semi-final defeat was Fulham’s 6-0 crushing at the hands of Newcastle United 111 years previously. A repeat of that could have been on the cards. We were looking at a result more disappointing than Duffy’s second album.
That it wasn’t says a lot about the Albion’s character. To bounce back from such an early setback against the finest attacking team in the country and only lose 1-0 was a hugely credible achievement. Had it not been for an outrageous clearance from Aymeric Laporte when he got the ball up and over his own crossbar with Glenn Murray set to pull the trigger from a matter of yards out, it might have even gone to extra-time.
For reasons nobody seems able to explain, the experts in the media were more intent on focusing on how bad City had been. They wanted to talk about how the Albion had dragged them down to our level, which completely ignores the fact that we actually played quite well. And there are three important lessons from the City game that Chris Hughton and the players need to take forward for the remainder of the season.
The first of those is quite clearly that they’ve set a standard of performance now that they need to maintain. If we can play as well against Bournemouth, Cardiff City and Newcastle United in three very winnable home games, then we’ll stay up. The threat of relegation is still very real; if the Albion lose to Bournemouth on Saturday and Cardiff beat Burnley, the Bluebirds could come to the Amex next Tuesday just two points behind. Win in Sussex and they’d overtake us in the table, leaving us right in the brown stuff.
The second is that it should show Hughton the benefits of going out and having a go at the big six clubs, that he doesn’t need to stick every man behind the ball and hope to score from a set piece. That would undoubtedly have been the plan on Saturday until it was blown out of the window after three minutes and we were forced to try and get an equaliser. In that regard, conceding so early against City could be seen as a blessing in disguise.
True, they weren’t at their best – you’ve probably heard – but we were much more proactive in terms of trying to get on the front foot than we have been in the past against the Premier League’s big boys.
Hopefully, that will give Hughton the confidence in his players to be a little more positive in these sort of games. With Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester City all still to play, that could be important in the run in. The third is that occasions like Saturday at Wembley are why we have to remain in the Premier League.
There have been some sections of the Brighton support saying that they’d like to go down as the Championship is more competitive, sometimes cheaper and we might actually win more than two league games in three months.
But if you are a Championship club, you don’t have days like this. 34,000 Albion fans at the home of football, a sea of blue and white, an unbelievable atmosphere and a standing ovation for 14 heroes who gave it their all. It was one of the best days you can have as a Brighton supporter.
By becoming an established Premier League club, there will be further opportunities to reach cup semi’s and maybe even finals in the future. Stoke City, Wigan Athletic, Crystal Palace and now Watford have done so once they’ve got settled in the top flight. Why not us?
That’s why survival this season is now so important – so we can enjoy more days at Wembley in the future. Play like we did under the arch on Saturday, and we should be alright.
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