Brighton were denied the opportunity to claim the Championship title by two extraordinary own goals from David Stockdale, though no blame can be apportioned to their luckless goalkeeper.
Twice he was beaten by first-half shots from Alex Pritchard, the midfielder who controversially pulled the plug on a move to Brighton last summer to join Norwich. Twice they rebounded off the woodwork to go in off Stockdale’s back.
Not that manager Chris Hughton, the manager Norwich sacked in April 2014, will be too worried. The title will be clinched on Monday if Newcastle, another club to jettison Hughton and regret it, lose at home to Preston, or in a week’s time if Brighton beat Bristol City in front of their own fans.
Pritchard had been barracked throughout by those supporters but twice he came up with the perfect response. The first came when a 20-yard shot hit the bar before going in off Stockdale; the second required a connection with the goalkeeper’s left-hand upright.
“I don’t think that’ll ever happen again but I’ll take the two assists,” Pritchard said. “Credit to Brighton for getting the promotion, we just haven’t been good enough this season.”
The Seagulls felt they should have had a penalty seconds before Stockdale’s second own goal but referee Tim Robinson allowed play to continue after Graham Dorrans appeared to have upended Jamie Murphy.
Norwich frustrated Brighton in the second half, with Jonny Howson blocking Glenn Murray’s header on the line and the busy Pritchard completing the clearance. “David Stockdale, he would have scored that,” sang the Norwich fans. Brighton did not mind too much, as they are still seven points ahead of Newcastle and will probably going up as champions.
“There is no blame at all on David Stockdale,” Hughton said. “I expect him to take it as it is and look forward to the game next Saturday. It has been an emotional week for everyone about the club but nothing changes. To have two games to win the title is still a wonderful achievement.”
Norwich City (4-2-3-1):Ruddy; Pinto, Martin, Bennett, Dijks; Dorrans, Howson; Naismith, Pritchard (Maddison 88), Josh Murphy; Oliveira.
Subs: McGovern, Whittaker, Jerome, Hoolahan, Jacob Murphy, Tettey.
Brighton and Hove Albion (4-4-1-1): Stockdale; Bruno, Huenemeier, Dunk, Pocognoli; Knockaert (Hemed 63), Sidwell, Norwood (Stephens 63), March; Jamie Murphy; Murray (Akpom 83).
Subs: Maenpaa, Tomori, Rosenior, Skalak.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).