Monday, 1 May 2017

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-1 Bristol City (Brownhill 43)

Championship, April 29 2017

One way to ensure the race for the Championship goes down to the wire is to suffer a shock defeat when everyone expects a rollover win. An air of raucous celebration was justified before Albion’s final home game of a magnificent season. What almost no-one had considered was that the team’s brilliantly consistent run at the Amex Stadium would come to an end on the day they had the chance to win the title against visitors who had spent much of the season contemplating relegation.

It wasn’t one of the Seagulls’ finest displays, but they were far less lackluster than they had been in the 2-0 loss at Norwich eight days earlier. Albion enjoyed two-thirds of the possession, but more than a dozen shots off target led the way to an anti-climax.

The wayward shooting began during an uncharacteristically stuttering opening 15 minutes. Murray should have scored when he was allowed to chest the ball inside the box, only to hit a tame half-volley which tumbled comfortably wide. But City were more than the spectators Wigan had often been during the game which won Albion promotion, sending a number of dangerous crosses into the box and taking the lead with an excellent goal just before half-time. Matty Taylor sent Josh Brownhill clear down the right, and his cross at pace returned the favour for an easy header which left the away fans at the Amex celebrating a lead for the first time since Newcastle’s late winner more than two months earlier.

Perhaps Albion would have had it easier if their opponents had been rooted in mid-table rather than chasing their Championship status on the back of a four-game unbeaten run which included three victories. Their goal came at the perfect time, too, stifling the joyous mood around the ground. Things didn’t get much better for Albion in the second half. Jiří Skalák, who had been booked and ineffective, was replaced by Solly March, but the Young Player of the Season struggled to create many openings. Anthony Knockaert, on the other side, had repeatedly deceived his marker down the left during the first half, most notably when he allowed Gaëtan Bong to cross for a Murray header which bounced across the six yard box, just short of Tomer Hemed’s reach.

A City old boy, Sam Baldock, might have made the difference against the club he scored 24 goals in one season for if he hadn’t missed out through injury, and Murray and Uwe Hünemeier should have done much better with the sort of headers they usually bury in front of goal. Lee Johnson’s side were good value for the upset, though. Taylor was inches from scoring again after an hour, narrowly failing to connect with a half-volley from point-blank range, and only a superb save from David Stockdale, getting down quickly to stop Bobby Reid’s shot after the substitute had broken through, prevented them from winning more comfortably late on.

It was impossible not to feel disappointment, but Albion still have the chance to win the division at Aston Villa on Sunday. They will need to take their chances better than this.

Albion: Stockdale, Bruno, Hünemeier, Dunk (Tomori 89), Bong, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal (Sidwell 62), Skalak (March 45), Murray, Hemed

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