Anthony Knockaert’s two goals set up Brighton with the opportunity to host their own promotion party at home on Monday. The Championship’s player of the year has so often provided Chris Hughton’s slick team with the penetration to go with their hard work and so it proved at Molineux on Friday as Brighton dismissed any disappointment at Huddersfield, beating Preston, delaying their elevation to the Premier League.
Brighton will seal a return to the elite of English football for the first time in 34 years should they beat Wigan Athletic on Monday and Huddersfield then fail to win at Derby County in the later kick-off. Let’s face it, promotion is a formality for Brighton now and, after three play-off disappointments in the past four years, few can claim they do not deserve it. They are 12 points clear of third place.
Technically, Hughton is pointing out that Brighton still need four points to be guaranteed promotion. But their goal difference is 31 better than that of Huddersfield, the only team below the top two who can still disturb them, so if they better their result on Monday, they are up.
Alternatively, Hughton could be going to Norwich City on Friday seeking to confirm his current team’s elevation at the home of the club who sacked him three years ago. He is not concerned about that, he said. “If we were to win on Monday, and other results went our way, then the Amex would be a wonderful place to do it.
“My responsibility is to be as calm as possible. We know at the moment four points will do it. We would like to do it as quickly as possible. So our focus has to be on the game on Monday.
“It’s something we’ve got used to, playing at different times. That’s why you always need to focus on your own game. We didn’t find out the Huddersfield result until after our game. We have no plans at the moment [to watch the Huddersfield game]. It’s a big Monday.”
It is 20 years since Brighton and Hereford played off with the loser disappearing into the never-never land of non-league, and only six since they were renting Withdean Stadium on their way to the League One title. Brighton have certainly earned their shot at the big time.
They are a solid team, with Knockaert and Solly March willing to tuck in from the flanks to stop the classy Dale Stephens and Steve Sidwell getting outnumbered in midfield.
Knockaert may have been offside when receiving David Stockdale’s long kick before scoring his first but he still had plenty to do, cutting back inside the recovering Kortney Hause before shooting left-footed into the bottom corner.
Tomer Hemed had fired a first-time shot against the corner of bar and post by this stage and Brighton controlled the first half with some ease.
Wolves made a fist of it in the second half but the continued absence of Hélder Costa with an ankle injury drained them of their greatest source of penetration.
Brighton were content to soak up pressure after the break and hit Wolves on the counter and when the substitute Jamie Murphy played a through ball that ricocheted for Glenn Murray to lay off for Knockaert, his 15th goal of the season, eight minutes from time, was as cool as it was clinical.
Paul Lambert tipped Brighton to pip Newcastle to the title: “If they win it they deserve to be champions. I don’t think Chris has anything to prove [in the top flight]. He’s a really good manager and if they do go up I’ll congratulate himbecause he’s a really nice guy. If they do it, well done to him.”