Mitoma and Brighton continue to delight as Proper Cup Tie ends in more gloom for holders Liverpool
Right now, Brighton will quite rightly wish to just enjoy a thrilling last-gasp victory over Liverpool, delivered by an absurdly good goal from the absurdly good Kaoru Mitoma.
But watching the way this Brighton side continues to piss all over frequent and substantial adversity it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation to throw things a bit further forward. Brighton have never won a major trophy. They’ve got a chance here, haven’t they?
Thanks in some large part to Brighton’s own efforts here, four of the ‘Big Seven’ have gone. The draw is going to open up for someone, especially with the apparent rule this year that Manchester City must play all their games against other big bastards.
There aren’t many teams left in this competition playing better than Brighton, who will fear nobody in the last 16 and be absolutely nobody’s idea of a decent draw.
Until the last 10 minutes, this had been an absolutely lovely slice of vintage FA Cup. Both teams appeared determined to win on the day with attacking football to the fore. There were goalline clearances at both ends while the game remained goalless and it was a fine example of a game neither side deserved to lose.
But then those last 10 minutes happened, and it became a game that Brighton fully deserved to win in the face of what appeared some pretty cowardly officiating. Any one and very arguably all three of Ibrahima Konate, Fabinho and Andy Robertson could have seen red as Liverpool found themselves hanging on for a replay they didn’t desperately want. They’ve avoided that at least.
Fabinho’s was perhaps the most egregious escape, not least for the fact the player’s own reaction told you he knew he’d got away with one after raking his studs down Evan Ferguson’s Achilles. It would be a significant dampener on a glorious day for Brighton if any injury there is serious.
And not even giving a free-kick for Konate’s last-man swipe of the arm across Alexis Mac Allister looked distinctly “If I give a foul I’ve got to give a red”.
Liverpool rode their luck in the first game against Wolves before emerging triumphant in the replay and a similar story looked to be getting its Act I perfectly written here. Until the game’s best player settled matters with a goal that left Joe Gomez and, from the replays we’ve seen, at least two cameramen desperately trying to work out what on earth was happening to them.
There’s always something magical about last-minute winners, of course, but there’s an extra special place reserved for those that require not just an extra layer of quality but also for a player to land himself in an oasis of calm. Not even the potentially party-pooping intervention of a previously MIA VAR could spoil it. Few late winners could tick all boxes as emphatically as Mitoma’s as he touched the ball inside and then stabbed it over a flailing Alisson in one deft movement of his right boot.
He had already been the game’s liveliest attacking threat – against stiff opposition from a Liverpool that even shorn of Diogo Jota, Roberto Firmino and Luis Diaz could call at various points on Mo Salah, Cody Gakpo, goalscorer Harvey Elliott and Darwin Nunez.
He’s an absolute joy of a player to watch, and of course because this is Brighton they snapped him up from Japanese football for three million quid. His deftness of touch and lightness of foot are beguiling, but that there’s so much tangible end product to all his probing and scheming makes him another contender for the journey from Brighton to the elite.
It’s easy – and fun – to laugh at Todd Boehly, but trying to simply recruit Brighton’s entire scouting system is definitely one of his more understandable Chelsea schemes. They’re just the absolute masters at this.
That for most of the upper reaches of the Premier League the lessons of what Brighton are doing will continue to be “Let’s try and sign Brighton players” rather than “Let’s try and do what they’re doing” is very on-brand for a very silly league.
Because this is a team that just keeps getting better, that just keeps having solutions to whatever obstacles the big boys present. No matter who leaves, they somehow seem to get stronger.
Everyone should already be looking at who Brighton are trying to sign as a possible Moises Caicedo replacement and just cutting out the middle-man.
We’re already excited to find out which team Facundo Buonanotte, the 18-year-old Argentinian midfielder Brighton signed for £6m in November, joins for £80m in two years’ time.
Despite (because of?) the assorted departures of the last 12 months, Brighton really do have the look of a side ready for the next step. And that step is either European football or silverware. After another famous day at the Amex they’ve increased their chances yet again.
For Liverpool, though, it’s another gloomy day in a season becoming rather too full of them. This was much better than their defeat here two weeks ago, but really that only emphasises the point. When the silver lining for Jurgen Klopp’s team is to be found in a defeat being the less miserable of the two defeats they’ve suffered here this month alone, then things are looking grim.
There were, though, some moments of decent football from Liverpool here. But there is something inescapably, indescribably missing. The reality is that it was no surprise when Brighton scored their late winner. The reality is that when Liverpool went 1-0 up in the first half you didn’t just expect them to go on and win.
And those final 10 minutes were not great. Until then it really had been a fine game of football, the most Proper of Proper Cup Ties. Yet it was Liverpool who were reduced, in those closing stages, to increasingly desperate – if not appropriately punished – foul play to try and keep themselves on an even keel.
In the end, that too proved beyond the holders.
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