Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Magnificent 10-man Albion came back from the almost dead to beat Sheffield Wednesday.
The visitors finished the game with just nine men.
One own goal. One SAVED penalty. Three sendings off. And now Albion nine points clear of third place.
Albion were forced into changes. Connor Goldson, usually used as a centre back by Chris Hughton, slotted into the injured Bruno’s right back slot. Seb Pocognoli replaced the also-injured Gaetan Bong.
Albion looked a little shaky from the start. Goldson didn’t appear to have the same initial understanding with Knockaert that Bruno has and wasn’t as spontaneous at crossing the ball as the Seagulls captain.
Knockaert created Albion’s first real chance, nutmegging an Owls defender. The Frenchman cut the ball back but neither Glenn Murray nor Tomer Hemed could capitalise.
Wednesday were reliant on the impressive Adam Reach, Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri.
Reach tested David Stockdale with a low shot that the keeper shovelled away for a corner.
As Wednesday began to smell Albion’s blood, Jack Hunt was caught by Seb Pocognoli. Albion’s French on-loan full-back appearing to land on Hunt’s ankle. The Owls midfielder was stretchered off.
Forestieri should have done better when the diminutive Bannan played him in but curled his shot wide.
Albion went ahead after a combination of Dale Stephens and Hemed moved the ball forward. Knockaert’s first touch looked to have let him down. He dummied the advancing Owls keeper Keiren Westwood and from a tight angle lofted the ball over the three defenders on the line and into the top corner to put Albion in the lead.
The Seagulls looked comfortable until Forestieri’s cross was bundled home by an own goal combination of Oliver Norwood and finally Lewis Dunk. Norwood tried to hook the ball clear but it spun off his foot and glanced off head of Dunk, the captain for the night.
Wednesday were unexpectedly level at half time.
Early in second half Albion had good chances. Shane Duffy narrowly headed a Norwood cross over. Then Jamie Murphy headed Hemed’s cross into the ground.
But just after the hour the game was almost turned on its head as the Owls pressed again and Albion were pegged back and at times cut open by Bannan. As Wednesday were getting on top Glenn Murray was adjudged to have handled Glenn Loovens’s shot.
Referee Stuart Attwell pointed to the spot. Murray was sent off but hovered by the players’ tunnel.
Forestieri stepped up but, cometh the hour, cometh the man. David Stockdale not only saved the initial penalty but also then pushed away Forestieri’s second attempt from the rebound.
Murray raised a clench fist as he finally made his way to the dressing room.
Albion still had to hang on for 20 minutes.
Hughton replaced Norwood and Murphy with Steve Sidwell and Solly March.
Albion were frustrating Wednesday and counterattacking at every opportunity.
March swung in an exquisite cross that eluded Hemed by inches.
Wednesday were playing as though they were the ones reduced to ten men.
But perhaps the moment of the season was upon us as Albion, a man down, attacked the Owls down the left.
With just five minutes left, Pocognoli found some space to cross in to the back post and Knockaert stabbed the ball home to send the Amex into unparalleled delight.
Albion really had snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.
In the closing stages Wednesday lost their heads. Steven Fletcher took a swing and tried to headbutt Stephens and was shown a straight red.
Then Sam Hutchinson attempted to tackle Knockaert head high and was given a second yellow as the five minutes of injury time started.
Wednesday didn’t really trouble Albion again and immediately on the final whistle the Amex reverberated to the sound of the Great Escape.
The Seagulls are two points clear of Newcastle in second and NINE points clear of Leeds in third with a game in hand.
That game is the rearranged fog-bound fixture with Cardiff City from back in December which is now due to be played next Tuesday (24 January).
Win that and it’s time to have a serious think about what might be around the corner.