So for the third time in 4 years Brighton are eliminated in the semi-final of the play offs. It may sound like sour grapes but this time it was to a team that finished 3 places and 15 points beneath them. Put another way had Brighton lost 2-0 , not 3-0, at home to Middlesbrough they would have been promoted automatically. The unfairness of the play-offs is that it it is not just a whole new competition but one which if anything the team in inferior position has the advantage. Going into the play-offs Brighton lost the influential Dale Stephens and Lewis Dunk, in the first hour of the game at Hillsborough they lost 4 players through injury . Conversely a side knowing it is in the play-offs but with no hope of automatic promotion can afford to rest key players, the Seagulls could not and played Boro away on the Sunday and went to Hillsborough 5 days later. Having lost midfielder Stephens Brighton could not even recall Rohan Ince on loan from Fulham till the end of June even though Fulham ‘s season ended 10 days ago ( thankfully so accordoing to Alan Tanner).
At least we put up a fight. Each seat at the Amex had a flag creating a montage of the club colours of blue and white stripes in the stadium. The noise level racked up as The Great Escape and Sussex by the Sea were played. In the first 20 minutes the Seagulls took the game to Wednesday and might have scored 4 or 5 not the one, when Lewis Dunk volleyed in a Anthony Knockaert free kick. Then Wednesday had another slice of luck when in their first attack a cross drifted over the head of Stockdale into the net. Texts soon arrived from those watching on tv that Dunk, who might have headed clear, was pushed over by Martin but the referee missed the foul. In the second half the Seagulls could not maintain the level of intensity, injuries prevented any meaningful substitutions and Knockaert and Sidwell looked tired. In a desperate throw of the dice Dunk ,a centre half, played the last 20 minutes up front. At the final whistle the Wednesday players euphorically went to their fans while our boys made a slow ,exhausted circuit of the pitch. Chris Hughton never one to milk the attention but the person most responsible for turning a relegation team into a unit challenging for promotion all season raised his arms to the crowd but did not assume a central role.
For reasons of health and safety we were stuck in the car park for 45 minutes and I did not get home till 11-30 although home is just a 15 minute drive over the South Downs. This put me in the stay-at-home camp but I would not have wished to miss such a palpitating night at the Amex. The other day I was speaking to our film critic Neil Rosen. Conversation turned to one of my favorite actors and screen personalities David Niven. Neil said that he made himself a great actor but was not born one like a Brando or di Niro. In the car I made the point that similarly at the start of the season even on our unbeaten run we were an attritional side grinding out wins but by the end of the season we became a fluid free scoring one, a team in my view that would have graced the Premier and fitting reward for chairman Tony Bloom who has invested £100m and fans who once had to traipse to Gillingham for a home game. They deserved a bit more than to fall at the last in unfair competition.