Ian Hart: Brighton & Hove Albion's 35-year wait is finally over

Anthony Knockaert celebrates his stunning winner against Crystal Palace. Picture: Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)
Anthony Knockaert celebrates his stunning winner against Crystal Palace. Picture: Phil Westlake (PW Sporting Photography)

So after 35 years, as predicted in this column last week, the wait is over and the Albion have done the double over Crystal Palace.

Sky Sports certainly chose well with their Saturday lunchtime game. It didn’t disappoint and produced everything you’d expect from a domestic derby game.

Were the Albion lucky? Define lucky. In my opinion, Antony Knockeart’s challenge after 45 seconds did warrant a red card – if the roles had been reversed and the same challenge had been on the Brighton player I would have shouted as much as the next fan for a straight red.

But referee Craig Pawson saw it differently and without the aid of TV replays he had to make an instant decision. On this occasion, Brighton – and specifically one of their better players – got the rub of the green. But over the years the boot has been on the other foot on numerous occasions and as has been said many times in the history of the beautiful game, these things do have a habit of evening themselves out over a period of time. Having said that the Albion were good for their win with two quality goals – Knockeart’s winner possibly one of the best in the history of the rivalry.

With results not going well elsewhere, the euphoria of victory was soon tempered with prophets of doom still banging on about the apparent fight against relegation.

Among their remaining nine games, the Albion have home matches against Southampton, Cardiff, Bournemouth and Newcastle. If they can’t get at least six points from these games, putting them on 39, never mind the other five games, they deserve to go down. Which is why relegation talk is just that – talk. Granted, differing opinions are the lifeblood of football and the reason why we all love it.

n Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Millwall is a game that has polarised opinions of many Albion fans. With Premier League survival looking likely, what kind of team should Chris Hughton field at the New Den on Sunday afternoon?

Should he stay loyal to the fringe players who have served Albion well in the previous three rounds? In my opinion, it’s a big fat ‘no’! The Albion manager has to go with his strongest-available line up.

Player fatigue and the upcoming league games isn’t really an issue. It’s the international break next week, so the Albion won’t have a game for another 13 days. There’s also the fact that at this stage of the competition there’s a huge opportunity for Brighton.

The prize money for getting to the semi-final stage is a reported £1.4million, in addition to the share in the gate receipts of an 80,000 crowd at the national stadium.

It’s cup football so anything could happen. Whatever team is put out, Hughton won’t take Millwall lightly. But by the time we kick off on Sunday the other three teams left could be Wolves, Palace and Swansea.

On our day, with the best squad in the club’s history, Brighton could and have beaten all those sides in the last 12 months or so. I can hear many reading this saying, ‘Come on, Harty, what about City and United?’. Well, to reiterate, this is cup football.

Whoever is in the last four is beatable on their day. In the first instance, regardless of the other three, Brighton will have too much for Millwall – a 2-0 win is my prediction.

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