By Tim Hodges from the Amex
Brighton & Hove Albion 3 Birmingham City 1
Albion have at least one foot and maybe two toes in the Premier League after brushing aside Birmingham at the Amex.
After Chris Hughton emphasised to Brighton and Hove News the importance of an early goal during Monday’s press conference, the opening two minutes couldn’t have gone more to plan.
Beram Kayal picked out Anthony Knockaert who in turn played in a superb ball for Bruno Saltor to run on to. His cross was slammed home by Glenn Murray to put Albion into a lead with just over 90 seconds played.
All talk of anxiety and patience until the first goal was almost immediately put out of the the equation.
It was the quickest goal at the Amex since Gary Gardner’s back in 2014.
His brother Craig hit the cross bar for Birmingham on 13 minutes – a free kick that had David Stockdake beaten all ends up.
Albion took their foot off the gas a little and Gardner had another good free kick, well held by Stockdale.
Uwe Hünemeier, who looked so assured on Saturday, appeared to be struggling for a while against Donaldson but was still managing to clear his lines.
After Lewis Dunk went on a lung-busting run he struggled to get back up the pitch. Down on his haunches he was replaced by Fikayo Tomori and was later reported as unwell.
Neither keeper had that much to do. Tomasz Kuszczak, who played two seasons for Albion at the Amex, still looks an imposing figure.
Solly March was beginning to get the better of his markers but was denied a fair penalty shout after he tangled with Krystian Bielik. Dale Stephens had a wayward effort and Gaetan Bong’s occasional runs to the byline were all the best rest of the side had to offer.
Albion began the second half with the speed they had employed at the start of the first.
March saw a shot charged down by Bielik then almost immediately a cross from Bruno found Murray who headed back across goal for Hemed to bundle home for 2-0 with fully 42 minutes of the half remaining.
Less than five minutes later, another cross from Bruno was headed goalwards by Tomori and then fell to Hünemeier, who unleashed a fierce drive, which hit Donaldson and deflected past Kuszczak. It was Hünemeier’s first Albion goal since joining in 2015.
At 3-0 Albion were comfortable and tried their best to add more goals.
Oliver Norwood and Jamie Murphy replaced Stephens and Kayal.
Albion tried to wear down the visitors further. But with five minutes left, Che Adams swung a left leg at a deep cross. The ball deflected off Hünemeier and past Stockdake for 3-1.
It was now Birmingham who tried to take the game to Albion. A succession of free kicks and corners, however, were well dealt with by the Albion defence.
It’s 34 years since Albion last graced the top division. It’s almost 20 years on 26 April since they left the Goldstone Ground. Dependent on the result from Molineux when Wolves take on Huddersfield, they could come back from the brink of extinction to the paradise of the Premier League, one day short of those 20 years.
Currently top of the Championship, next up for the Seagulls are QPR away on Friday (7 April).
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