Glenn Murray’s priceless goal, his 19th of the season, midway through the second half has given Brighton the tantalising prospect of there being a third club from the south coast in the Premier League next season.
Chris Hughton’s side are so close to automatic promotion, after all their play‑off agonies of recent years, that they can almost touch it. Huddersfield’s unexpected 1-0 home defeat by Burton Albion means that second-placed Brighton will have a nine-point cushion between themselves and the Yorkshire club when they meet Birmingham City here on Tuesday night.
Hughton’s biggest task now after beating a well-organised Rovers side, who were the better team in a tight first half, is to keep his players’ feet on the ground. He said: “It does feel like a significant day. Not because of what happened at Huddersfield but because we just got over the line in a scrappy game. Each one of our seven games now is massive. We’ll keep level-headed because in this division anything can happen.”
Murray, the 33-year-old Cumbrian whose 30 goals helped Crystal Palace into the Premier League via the play-offs four years ago, was the difference between the sides and yet the happy outcome for most of the full house seemed unlikely midway through the first half.
The striker needed treatment and was not moving too fluently after having his left thigh strapped. But he carried on and after a first half when he and his new strike partner, Chuba Akpom, who was making a first start since his loan move from Arsenal in January, were getting little change from the Blackburn defence, he took his first real chance brilliantly. The defender Liam Rosenior swung over a cross from the right wing for Anthony Knockaert to give Murray the chance with a perfectly cushioned header. The forward reacted in a split second to turn the ball past the goalkeeper, Jason Steele, at the far post.
Tomer Hemed, a second-half substitute for Akpom, might have scored a second in the dying minutes and there were a few late scares for Brighton as Blackburn, fighting for their Championship lives, went in search of a vital point but the home team’s defence was too strong.
For Blackburn, who have not been in the third tier of English football since Howard Kendall took them up into the old Second Division in 1980, Burton’s win and Tony Mowbray’s first defeat since he took over at Ewood Park six weeks ago means there is now a real fear of relegation.