For Brighton this win brought a quarter-final place for the first time since 1986 and the suggestion Chris Hughton finally has the depth at his disposal to combine a tilt at the FA Cup and a successful relegation fight.
For Coventry the battle remains yet more profound; Mark Robins’s League Two side were well beaten but it must be hoped that, as a minimum, such an engaging run has propelled a famous, deeply troubled old name back into the national consciousness for good.
Coventry may take inspiration from the rise their opponents have effected from football’s depths. Brighton’s modern state of health can be divined by the fact their club record £14m striker from PSV Eindhoven did so much of the damage. Jürgen Locadia scored on his debut and might have had more. In the event Connor Goldson and Leonardo Ulloa rounded off a satisfying, if not completely routine, afternoon that offered cautious encouragement to those concerned by their long-standing lack of firepower.
“He’s been in good form for PSV and is used to scoring goals,” Hughton said of Locadia, who scored nine times in the first half of the Eredivisie season but had not played since December owing to a hamstring injury. “To get off the mark in his first game, I’m really delighted for him. What was more important was that he came through with no issues and looked quite strong.”
Locadia could easily have scored a hat-trick in the first half. He struck the post within five minutes after meeting an Uwe Hünemeier knockdown but it proved a stay of execution for the visiting defence. Brighton were, like the away side, set up in a straightforward 4-4-2 but the simple act of providing their wingers, Solly March and Anthony Knockaert, with possession was enough to set Coventry’s heads spinning. When Knockaert, found in space on the right by a simple Bruno pass, slightly scuffed his delivery the effect was to wrong-foot his opponents and particularly the centre-back Dominic Hyam. Locadia, by contrast ready for anything, met the ball first time and easily beat a rooted Lee Burge.
It took an adroit piece of covering from Ryan Haynes to deny Locadia a tap-in shortly afterwards and then, after March had once again sped away from Jack Grimmer down the Brighton left, Locadia completely missed his kick with the chance laid on a plate. Just after the half-hour he met Markus Suttner’s cross on the stretch but diverted it wide. If openings continue to arise this frequently, then for Locadia Brighton may come to resemble Arcadia.
Goldson made sure nobody felt too regretful when, meeting a Suttner corner and hanging in the air above Jordan Willis, he found the one spot Burge could not reach. To all intents and purposes the tie had been settled and Ulloa removed any lingering doubt when, after the break, he powered in the kind of header that characterised his earlier spell at Brighton. This, his first goal since returning on loan from Leicester, moved Hughton to punch the air inside his technical area.
Hughton, who replied “I have no idea” when offered the chance to promote Brighton’s chances of a run beyond the last eight, was rightly pleased with the way his side approached their task from the start. Yet Coventry made sure they went through the gears and, had Jonson Clarke-Harris not headed against the bar shortly before Locadia’s opener, the match could have taken a different turn. The same player hit an upright in the second half and then lashed in a consolation after a loose Goldson header.
Five of Coventry’s starting XI came from the club’s academy; the 20-year-old Jordan Shipley’s sweet left foot stood out at times while Tom Bayliss, 18, provided moments of ingenuity. “Rather than parking the bus we wanted to take part in the game,” Robins said, and they showed glimpses of the initiative that had already accounted for Stoke City and MK Dons.
In Coventry’s case one hesitates to say the future looks bright, because the wider questions around their ownership cast too big a shadow. On this evidence, though, they have at least created a platform for better. “It should give them that confidence to believe they can go on and have a strong finish to the campaign,” Robins said of his play-off chasers. The 4,500 vocal fans who followed them here will hope dearly the impact stretches further.