Brighton beat Manchester United to secure Premier League survival
Brighton and Hove Albion have officially beaten the drop and will be playing Premier League football again next season. Pascal Groβ’s header on 57th minute was rightly deemed to have crossed the line by virtue of goal-line technology and Chris Houghton’s men hung on for a well deserved victory and a night to reflect on their achievements.
Manchester United have got 2nd place pretty much wrapped up and will have their eyes on an FA Cup win, but Jose Mourinho will no doubt be unimpressed by the performance of a strong United side who looked toothless up front without the prolific Romelu Lukaku.
Some Football League clubs must detest the play-off system. Brighton can certainly lay claim to this, having lost at that stage three times in four seasons prior to their eventual promotion. In 2005-16 they led the table for a significant chunk of the season only to miss out on automatic promotion on the final day, having to settle for third and a subsequent 3-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday in the play-offs.
They were fast becoming a nearly man team. A cursory glance at the final standings in the Championship over the past few seasons saw The Seagulls in and around the top six, their new 30,000 capacity stadium was shiny and top of the range, and each time they drew a top flight side in the cup they were never pushovers, playing good football and giving a honest account of their ability. However that final step to the big time always eluded them.
Their patience paid off though and Chris Houghton has shown once again what a talented manager he is at that level, guiding them out of the League after a season-long tussle with Newcastle. They have really impressed this term as well. Fielding a team with the right blend of experienced grafters and talented foreign players, they have never really looked in trouble and Houghton has been the embodiment of calm throughout.
He is a manager who understands the value of hard work and grafting for points. He did this at Newcastle endearing himself to the fan base as a result. You can always expect a shift out of one of his teams, which is what makes him so popular.
Pros like Glenn Murray have blossomed in the top flight while Pascal Groβ and Jose Izquierdo have added some upgraded Premier League quality that any promoted side needs to invest in, regardless of how well they’ve done in the previous campaign. They clearly have some talented scouts, something which can never be discounted in terms of importance and will continue to serve them well as they plan for 2018-19.
In Chris Houghton they have a real football man, who has done solid jobs everywhere he’s been. If he’s backed and supported, he’ll keep them up next season as well. They would do well to stick with that they know and being hard to beat at home, although a more prolific striker will be needed as only three sides have scored less than Brighton this season.
Although not a fashionable football club, they are lucky to be a one club town with a considerable fan base, there will be other clubs from bigger cities with far more football heritage looking on enviously no doubt.
Manchester United and Arsenal have both lost at The Amex this season which is a testament to how well Brighton have done. For United though there must be some concerns about their player’s mentality. They have lost on the road to all three promoted sides, which when you consider the rich talent in their ranks, is quite a damning fact. Mourinho said his side played “as though second wasn’t important” and it will be a task for him now to get his side motivated for the remaining Premier League fixtures.
More interesting perhaps were his comments on Lukaku’s matchday replacements after the match:
“For 10 months I get asked ‘why always Lukaku? Why always Lukaku? Why always this player? That guy doesn’t have a chance to start, the other one is on the bench. You know why now.”
It is hardly encouraging for Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial to hear that from their manager, even if they did put in a limp performance. No doubt the comments will fan the flames of long standing doubts about both men’s long term future. Neither seems to be a fit in to Mourinho’s, compact, direct style of play on the counter. Both are still young and will not want significant proportions of their seasons spent on the bench.
Rashford in particular must be a puzzling one for United fans. He showed in the 2-1 victory over Liverpool in March just what a key player he could be for the club. His direct running, good feet and confident finishing would actually make him a decent fit for Klopp’s Liverpool. For whatever reason Mourinho doesn’t seem willing to dovetail him onto the side, when he’d likely be a fan favourite if he featured more often.
The signing of 29 year-old Alexis Sanchez must be seen as the blow for both Rashford and Martial. You can see why any club would want the Chilean, but surely in the two youngsters United possessed enough quality in this area of the pitch. Would either of them fared any better under Ferguson? Whatever the answer, chances are at least one of them will not be at Old Trafford next season.