Brighton ended up winning their FA Cup quarter-final against Grimsby comfortably, but for the visitors there was plenty of reason to hold their heads high.
Merely in getting to this stage of the FA Cup, Grimsby had set records. They arrived at the quarter-finals having already beaten five teams from divisions above them to get this far. In the first round, they put five goals past League One promotion challengers Plymouth Argyle. In the fourth round, they held Championship play-off challengers Luton Town to a draw away from home and then wiped the floor with them in the replay. And in the fifth round they won 2-1 at Southampton.
But there still does seem to be a certain amount of disbelief that Brighton & Hove Albion are where they are in the Premier League on merit. Winning their games in hand would put them, depending on results elsewhere, put them fourth or fifth in the table and they’re in this elevated position on merit. But an indicator of the reality of the gap between these two teams didn’t take long to materialise. Less than six minutes in, Moises Caicedo’s shot was pushed away by the Grimsby goalkeeper Max Crocombe, only for Demiz Undav to get in and convert the rebound.
So at that point, it did look as though things might get bad for the visitors, but slowly Grimsby did start to settle, and Roberto De Zerbi’s decision to give goalkeeper Robert Sanchez a run out in goal for Brighton seemed to introduce a little more jeopardy into proceedings. Claiming the ball on the edge of his own penalty on the very limits of where he was allowed to use his hands was arguably the highlight of a performance which occasionally seemed tailor-made to inspire a degree of nervousness in the crowd.
But the actual chances fell just about exclusively to Brighton, a steady downpour of quarter-chances, half-chances and more. Mitoma’s miss from close range was probably the pick of the bunch, but they had the chances to put the game well beyond Grimsby’s reach before half-time and didn’t. By the time the interval came around they still led by just the one. Just enough to give Grimsby hope that they could turn this around in the second half, and all after admirably withstanding a substantial early setback.
Of course, all of that counts for little if you start the first half in exactly way that you started the first, and that is exactly what happened. Six minutes into the second half, Evan Ferguson dragged the ball under control, spun, and scored into…
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