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Chris Hughton’s Brighton face nervy PL climax

PRESSURE: Chris Hughton

CHRIS HUGHTON’S Brighton face the spectre of relegation as they head into next weekend’s FA Cup semi final against Manchester City at Wembley.

The Seagulls were beaten 1-0 by Southampton (March 30) to leave themselves in danger of falling through the Premier League trap door. A well taken Pierre Emile Hojbjerg strike was enough to secure three precious points for the team in red and white.

To say there was a lot riding on this South Coast derby was an understatement. Both teams were in danger of the dreaded drop despite Cardiff City being labelled favourites to join both Huddersfield and Fulham in the Championship come next August.

Despite a FA Cup run that has taken them to the semi-finals, the hosts would no doubt give up their place at Wembley next month if they could guarantee their top flight status for a third successive campaign.

As for Southampton, there were no such distractions. They came into this fixture with eight games to save their spot in the Premier League.

Hughton admitted pre-match: “We know that staying in the Premier League is the most important thing.

“I’ve been asked how many will be needed to stay in the division, and I’ve always spoken about the 40-point mark. It could, of course, be less - or even more - but if you have that figure in mind, it provides a target for us to aim for.”

The opening half was a good indicator as to why these two teams had struggled this season. There was a lack of ideas and free flowing football.

The hosts’ best player was Yves Bissouma who provided skill and energy but his final ball needs work.

But the visitors edged the half without putting the ball into the back of the net. They had the best of the rare openings with the lively Danny Ings and captain Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg being foiled by last ditch home defending.

Brighton’s best opportunities came when Alireza Jahanbakash saw his effort blocked by Angus Gunn in the away goal. That was followed by a wayward Glenn Murray header which was teed up by the elusive Anthony Knockaert towards the end of the half.

There was still time for Nathan Redmond to fire wide of Mathew Ryan’s upright after a tidy Ings pass.

The home side simply had to be better in the second half.

Sadly, they weren’t.

In fact things were to get worse for Hughton’s men just seven minutes after the restart.

The hungry Saints won the ball in their opponents’ half. Redmond charged into the Brighton area before releasing the ball to the overlapping Hojbjerg; the Saints leader kept his composure and feet to fire home much to the delight of the away fans behind the goal.

Knockaert attempted to fire back for the increasingly frustrated hosts but his effort failed to test Gunn.

And all the while Saints were dangerous with the hard -running and pacy Redmond having his shot cleared by Lewis Dunk.

Hughton brought on his FA Cup quarter-final hero, Solly March, with a third of the game remaining in a bid to get his team going.

Thereafter a sustained period of home pressure saw a Martin Montoya left foot curler hit the post. It wasn’t going to be Hughton’s day.

But to their credit they kept going. Shane Duffy was inches from converting after a free kick while sub Jurgen Locadia’s neat turn and shot - after a Dale Stephens pass into the penalty area - came to nothing.

The joy on the Saints’ bench on the final whistle confirmed what these three points meant.

While Cardiff are everyone’s third and final team to go down, this loss means that Brighton have very little room for manoeuvre with just five points, with a game in hand, between the Welsh outfit and Hughton’s beaten troops.

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