By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Two goals first-half goals from Kazenga LuaLua helped consign Wolves to League 1.
Albion now face arch-rivals Crystal Palace in the play-off semi finals next weekend.
Gus Poyet selected a near full strength team. Andrew Crofts returned in midfield as did Vicente Rodriguez who was making his first start since the home game with Charlton almost a month ago.
Marcos Painter was a surprise choice at left back.
Before the kick off all 30,003 spectators, both sets of players and the officials gave an emotional minute’s applause to Albion cup final hero Tony Grealish who passed away last week.
Wolves had it all to do but it was the Albion who started more brightly. With just four minutes gone LuaLua picked up the ball outside the penalty area and from fully 20 yards bent it around Dorus De Vries to put Albion in the lead.
The Wolves players looked immediately demoralised. To have any chance of staying up they had to overturn a four-goal deficit and hope that Peterborough lost at Palace.
With 85 minutes to play the black country men effectively had to beat Albion 5-1.
With about ten minutes gone Bakary Sako found himself in space but his shot hit the outside of the post. It didn’t seem to bother Tomasz Kuszczak who appeared to have it covered.
Sako was involved again a few minutes later. He managed to curl in a corner that almost or may even have crossed the goal-line, Kuszczak scooping the ball out from underneath the bar and then giving the captain more than a piece of his mind afterwards.
Vicente was getting more into the game for Albion, spraying a few effortless 40-yard passes around. Meanwhile Jamie O’Hara was trying his best to get Wolves going but with half and hour gone it was as if they knew that their task was almost pointless as both Peterborough and Barnsley were ahead in their games.
LuaLua was once again tormenting the Wolves defence. Then with seven minutes of the half remaining the rejuvented winger cut in past one fullback, mesmerised Kaspars Gorkss with a step over and drilled the ball past the keeper to put Albion 2-0 in front.
LuaLua was delighted and performed his recently outlawed back flip with perfection.
The Albion led 2-0 at the break. The Wolves players trudged off seemingly resignedly to their fate.
The almost infamous Stephen Hunt came on for Wolves at the start of the second half but it was Matt Doherty who had Wolves’ best chance, heading into the ground and over in front of goal with Kuszczak apparently beaten.
David Lopez was begining to bring the ball out of defence and Leo Ulloa had a couple of chances with Ashley Barnes working hard to support the midfield when necessary.
The referee was Simon Hooper, who Barnes was alleged to have tripped when Albion played at Bolton.
After Barnes seven-match ban for the incident the two stayed fairly clear of each other.
Adam El-Abd replaced goal hero LuaLua and David pushed into midfield.
Wolves rallied and tried their best to get at least a goal. Palace had equalised just before half time. But with Peterborough having gone back in front and their team’s ideas having fizzled out a little caused the away fans to turn on their team.
A large chorus of boos rang out from the South Stand with the additional “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” chant.
Hunt had another chance but Kuszczak smothered it at the second attempt.
Then a wonderful moment at The Amex as a Mexican wave went around the whole stadium with even the disgruntled Wolves fans joining in as it did at least two laps.
Vicente bared his teeth a little after he was fouled by Karl Henry.
As the game drew to a close the Wolves fans chanted “we’re going down in a minute” and soon after it was announced that there were 30,003 in the Amex, the biggest attendance since the late 1970s.
Albion tried to get a third. Vicente beat at least three men on the edge of the area but shot wide, Ulloa fired well over when well placed and just before the end De Vries saved from Barnes.
Just before 3pm Wolves were confirmed as being a third-tier club for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.
After the final whistle Hunt and a couple of other players threw their shirts to the Wolves fans behind the goal but at least one was thrown back.
Albion now play Crystal Palace in the mother of all M23 derbies next Friday (10 May) and at the Amex on Monday 13 May.
The play-off final is exactly 30 years and 1 day after the 1983 FA Cup Final replay.
Albion: Kuszczak; Lopez, Greer, Upson, Painter; Bridcutt, Crofts, Vicente; Barnes, Ulloa, LuaLua. Subs: Ankergren (GK), El-Abd, Dicker, Hammond, Orlandi, Buckley, Barker.
Wolves: De Vries; Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Elokobi; Henry, Doumbia, O’Hara; Dicko, Doyle, Sako. Subs: McCarey, Ward, Hunt, Sigurdarson, Robinson, Batth, McAlinden.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Swindon)
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