HEADING FOR THE PROMISED LAND: Brighton boss Chris Hughton
CHRIS HUGHTON’S Brighton took another giant step towards the Premier League with a 2-1 win against battling Queens Park Rangers tonight (April 7).
The popular Hughton, recently recognised at the Black List Awards for his outstanding career, is very nearly in the Promised Land but this win wasn’t without its nerves as the west Londoners kept going to the very end.
Brighton were unbeaten in their last seven Championship fixtures contested on a Friday, winning six (D1) and just about hung onto another precious three points as they went top of table however temporarily.
QPR are unbeaten in their last 11 games in all competitions against Brighton at Loftus Road (W5 D6), last losing in September 1957 and did manager Ian Holloway proud.
Fittingly this match was being played just a day before the Grand National; the Championship is also full of obstacles and a genuine long haul.
Brighton, who have been exemplary throughout the season, now just five games to go and the winning post is within sight.
A thoroughly entertaining first half saw Hughton’s side rightly have two goals ruled out for offside while Rangers looked like a team on the up and with a bright future.
For most of the opening ten minutes Ian Holloway’s Hoops looked like the outfit pushing for promotion. They confidently knocked the ball around without unduly troubling David Stockdale in the away goal.
Ryan Manning had the match’s first shot but Stockdale was its equal and the effort seem to spur Albion into action.
Bearded captain Bruno charged down the right flank and arrowed in an inviting cross but there were no takers in a Brighton shirt. It was then the turn of Solly March and Anthony Knockaert to spurn chances for Hughton’s men.
Holloway has assembled a decent side, who will most likely challenge for a top six spot this time next year, and they were up for the fight.
Leading the way was Conor Washington who looked to cash in on Steve Sidwell’s misplaced pass but the lone Ranger fired well over Stockdale’s crossbar when well placed.
On 33 minutes Glenn Murray then had his ‘goal’ ruled out after being just too eager to flick home Knockaert’s cross-cum-shot.
Minutes later Knockaert looked to take goal scoring responsibility himself but was denied by a last ditch tackle when bearing down on Alex Smithies’ goal.
The assistant referee’s flag also penalised Tomer Hamed as he too timed his run incorrectly and had his effort wiped from the record books.
There was a verve about Brighton at the start of the second period. They were now beginning to knock with more frequency and power on the away door.
Hughton had clearly given his players a rollicking and demanded better and he got the desired response. His team outclassed their opponents for most of the half and March set the tone with an effort that was blocked by Nedum Onuoha with the ball going out for a corner.
Thereafter the visitors were in control. In the 58th minute the aforementioned door was blown off its hinges when, after an excellent ball by Hamed, Murray burst through the heart of the QPR defence and fired nonchalantly past Smithies.
Six minutes later Seb Pocognoli then scored a sublime free kick with his left peg to send the away support into raptures that might have registered on the Richter Scale.
But the tempo of the game and the mood in the ground was to change. A Matt Smith header, that looked like routine work for Stockdale, was fumbled by the hesitant ‘keeper.
From the resultant corner Smith made Stockdale pay in the 74th minute when heading home virtually unchallenged. The last fifteen minutes were agony for Hughton and the Brighton faithful as QPR came storming back. Smith was the battering ram that the hosts’ built their raids around and the tactic very nearly paid off.
Washington twice had good chances to gain parity for his side but failed to hit the target. Meanwhile Sidwell nearly put through his own net as Albion desperately protected their lead.
That they managed to do so was testament to their battling qualities. With the Grand National in mind, the seaside outfit are in sight of the final furlong.