Brighton are still in the hunt for a Champions League place, but recording a first-ever win at Wembley would be a huge statement of the club’s progress.
The post-match headlines wrote themselves. With Brighton playing on March 15 – the Ides of March – there was something faintly inevitable that the only goal would be scored by Solly March in the 15th minute. It was a warning to which Crystal Palace didn’t seem to have paid enough attention.
This was a win of both symbolic and literal importance to Brighton. Their games against Palace might not be ‘local’ derbies as such, but it’s the match that most supporters of both clubs look for first when the fixture lists are published every summer. It’s also one in which Brighton haven’t had much success recently. This win was their first in eight attempts, stretching back to March 2019.
But that literal importance is of more tangible use to the club in the present. The three points didn’t shift them up the Premier League table from seventh place, but it did put them level on points with Liverpool with a game in hand, while cutting the gap on Newcastle United to two points and Spurs to five – and they still have two games in hand on the latter of those two.
There remain many caveats, but Brighton are right in the mix for a top four finish and the possibility of Europa or perhaps even Champions League football. To achieve this would be little short of sensational, a sharp reminder that long-term strategic planning still has a place in a game that increasingly seems to believe problems within a club will just vanish if enough money is thrown at them.
But this isn’t the only front upon which Brighton are fighting at the moment, and the other one might be even more intriguing. It’s the FA Cup quarter-finals this weekend, and not only are they still in the competition, but they’re in this position in a season during which a lot of the tournament’s biggest guns have already been eliminated. And with a favourable home draw against League Two Grimsby.
Brighton have played at Wembley five times in their history, but have yet to actually win there. It took until 1983 for the club to make their first appearance against Manchester United in the FA Cup final, and when they did they almost won it, an infamous Gordon Smith miss in the closing minutes meaning that the match ended in a 2-2 draw, with United winning the replay 4-0.
They’ve never come closer than that near-miss. They were…
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